Miller: UCLA-Gonzaga Final Four Preview

The Bruins reached the National Semifinal by taking down the champions of the SEC and Big 10

Posted on April 3, 2021

Dane Miller
  By Dane Miller, SportsPac12

Disrespected and counted out, UCLA reached the Final Four after taking down the champions of the SEC and Big 10.

The Selection Committee didn’t respect the Bruins enough to put them in the Field of 64, and many thought Mick Cronin’s team shouldn’t even be in the Tournament.

Yet, here they are.

Along the way, the Pac-12 has shattered its image of weakness and broken through to the next level. Unfortunately, Mark Few and the Zags stand in the way of the Conference’s first National Championship Game appearance since 2008.

The Bulldogs have skated through their first four games, winning by an average of 24 points per contest. And fresh off a commanding victory over USC, its going to take a complete game to hand Gonzaga its first defeat of the season.

I preview the matchup here, and my pick, along with Nick Bartlett’s, Stephen Vilardo’s, and Anthony Gharib’s appear at the bottom.


No. 11 UCLA v. No. 1 Gonzaga

Final Four
Saturday, April 3rd
5:34 pm PT, CBS

Nobody has been able to slow down Gonzaga all season.

Few

Mark Few has arguably put together the perfect roster, comprised of skilled bigs mixed together with potent guards and an NBA-caliber freshman.

The Zags’ offensive production has catapulted the program to a 30-0 start, just two games away from the perfect season. Some might argue it would take a miracle for UCLA to end their year.

But Mick Cronin knows the strength of his Bruins, and has a plan to send Gonzaga home. There aren’t many advantages UCLA has on paper, but the slightest hint of daylight remains.

The Bruins turn the ball over fewer times per game than the Bulldogs, while connecting from deep at almost the same rate. Cronin’s game plan could be a tried and true method of tournament success: Hit threes and force turnovers.

Against an offense that scores 91.6 points per game, it’s a tough ask. Yet, UCLA can learn from the mistakes of the teams that have failed before them. Attempting to speed up Few’s team doesn’t work, nor does turning the game into a shootout.

What’s left to try? A grind-it-out slugfest—an ugly game from start to finish with a heavy emphasis on defense. And Cronin’s team is built for just that.

If UCLA manages to keep the game in the 40s or low 50s, it just might have a chance. To get there, turnovers must be limited to prevent transition buckets, allowing the Bruins to get into their defensive sets off of missed shots.

Cronin

Ball security and smart decision-making may be the key, but knocking down looks from the perimeter is arguably going to be the difference. Similar to the Michigan game, a slowed down rock-fight favors Cronin’s roster.

Foul trouble could play a role, but the game will arguably be won and lost on defense.

It’s just a matter of execution.

Look for UCLA to focus on defending the fast-break, even if it means foregoing opportunities for offensive rebounds, in order to get back on defense. The strategy may limit second-chance points, but it’s the cost of keeping the game low-scoring.

It might be a long shot, but miracles happen.

 




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