NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen Preview: #2 Gonzaga vs. #11 UCLA


The Round of 32 curse is finally broken. Gonzaga has bigger aspirations though.

March 22, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) reacts after a scoring play against Iowa Hawkeyes during the first half in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at KeyArena. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga (34-2) looks to continue its NCAA Tournament run with a Sweet Sixteen win over UCLA (22-13) Friday night. A victory would put Gonzaga in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999 and just the second time in school history.

While the Zags looked impressive in their Round of 32 win over Iowa Sunday night, they face a tough Bruins team that is playing their best basketball of the season. They are much improved from December, when the Bulldogs earned an 87-74 victory against them at Pauley Pavilion. However, the Zags are better now too.

In two NCAA Tournament games, Kyle Wiltjer has averaged 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. His performance is the most crucial for the Zags. In Gonzaga’s two losses this season, Wiltjer averaged 9.5 points. If UCLA wants to have a good chance to upset the Zags, they need to find a way to stop him first and foremost.

That’s easier said than done. Wiltjer’s offensive versatility makes it difficult for opponents to guard. After Wiltjer drives in the paint, he can score a midrange jumper or shoot far behind the three-point arc.

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Gonzaga leads the nation in field goal percentage, so UCLA will have to find ways to score and score often. Since the Bruins do not have much depth, they will have to rely heavily on their five starters to get their offense going.

If Gonzaga shows up and plays physical, competitive basketball for forty minutes, I think they will have no problem with UCLA. If they allow the Bruins to hang with them through most of the game, I would be worried if I were a Zags fan. This Bruins team has an edge and will try to take advantage of it if given the opportunity.

It’s up to Gonzaga what their fate will be. They have the talent and depth to compete for a spot in the Final Four. The question is whether they can keep the momentum going. With all of the doubt against them, I can’t see why not.

The game tips off at 4:15 p.m. and can be seen on CBS.