Against Gonzaga, UCLA is enjoying its role as plucky underdog

UCLA has 18 Final Four appearances. Gonzaga has none. But, players say, the pressure is all on the Bulldogs.

UCLA has 18 Final Four appearances. Gonzaga has none. UCLA plays in a power conference. Gonzaga does not.

So, naturally, when UCLA plays Gonzaga on Friday the pressure is on … Gonzaga?

It doesn’t happen often, but in the Bruins’ South Region semifinal game, they have few expectations to deal with. Few expected them to even make the tournament; fewer expected two wins.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, has made 17 straight NCAA tournament appearances but has yet to reach the Final Four. With, perhaps, their most talented roster in years, the Bulldogs are under pressure to capitalize.

"The pressure isn’t on us," sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton said. "We're on an 11 seed."

Hamilton acknowledged that the thought of UCLA as a plucky underdog is “really weird.” Freshman forward Kevon Looney said he’s not sure UCLA can ever be considered an underdog.

Gonzaga Coach Mark Few played down the importance of reaching the Final Four for the first time. He said that too much emphasis is often placed on tournament play. The result, he said, is that teams that had marginal years are often celebrated.

"No, I don't feel pressure or anything like that," Few said. "If it is, it's because again you want it so bad for the group, it's like you want your own kids to do well in a play or something."

For UCLA, though, there’s little cause for stage fright.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

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