UCLA's best defense against Gonzaga's shooters could be the stadium

UCLA is tasked with slowing down Gonzaga's high-octane offense on Friday

Before Gonzaga arrived at NRG Stadium, forward Kyle Wiltjer, who had played games in big stadiums while at Kentucky, told his teammates what it would be like.

“I was trying to describe what the arena looks like and how big it is,” Wiltjer said.

UCLA is tasked with slowing down Gonzaga’s high-octane offense in the NCAA basketball tournament round of 16 on Friday. The Bruins know they can’t allow the Bulldogs to get hot. Gonzaga is third in the nation in three-point shooting percentage and second in two-point percentage.

The Bruins may be helped out by the stadium, built to house the Houston Texans, whose wide open spaces some say can throw off a shooter’s vision.

“The depth perception can alter your shot at times,” sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton said. “So that’s why we got a lot of shots in. But it’s nothing too crazy. We’ve played in big arenas.”

Evidence for the effect is spotty, mostly because the sample size is too small. Research by the Wall Street Journal in 2011 that compared teams' shooting accuracy in the Final Four since 1997 -- when the NCAA moved all Final Fours to domes -- and those in the previous four years showed an average four-percentage-point drop in both three-point and two-point shooting for games in domes. But that only looked at 12 games in the pre-dome era.

If both teams struggle to make jumpers, that could help the Bruins, who score only 27.5% of their points on three-pointers, 208th in the nation according to kenpom.com.

Wiltjer, who makes 54.8% of his field goal attempts, said he doesn’t like to make much of the arena.

“If you are a shooter, you are a shooter,” he said. “You’ve just got to have that mentality you are going to make every shot.”

Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos, who has made 40.1% of his three-point attempts, said it’s possible the enclosed stadium could throw the Bulldogs’ shooters off.

“But the rim is the same height,” he said, “so you just don’t think about it and shoot.”

Twitter: @zhelfand

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