UCLA must be on guard on many fronts against Gonzaga's stellar offense

UCLA must be on guard on many fronts against Gonzaga's stellar offense
Gonzaga's leading scorer Kyler Wiltjer (17.1) is defended by Brigham Young guard Chase Fischer during the West Coast Championship game on March 10. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Before UCLA's practice Tuesday, Coach Steve Alford wryly noted the choice he has on how to defend against Gonzaga, the Bruins' opponent in the South regional semifinals Friday.

You can slow the Bulldogs down, he said, just as San Diego did twice this season. But the Toreros still lost by 12 and 20. You can match their pace, as plenty of teams have attempted. But when the Bruins tried that in December, they lost by 13.


"You can concentrate on the three-point line," Alford said. "But they're monsters inside.… It's hard to figure out which you're going to be able to take away. If any."

In their first two tournament games, the Bruins had success defensively because they sacrificed perimeter defense to shut down shooters in the paint. But Gonzaga offers no easy choices.

In an 87-68 win over Iowa on Sunday, the Bulldogs lobbed three-pointers whenever they had the space, even if that meant shooting well behind the three-point line.

"Whether it's a foot off the line, two feet, three, whatever it is, we believe we can make that," point guard Kevin Pangos said.

Gonzaga made 10 of 16 three-pointers in that game. But extending the defense means freeing space for 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski.

Alford noted that, if not for two or three possessions this season, Gonzaga could be undefeated, just like Kentucky. The Bulldogs have scored 79 points or more in all five of their postseason games this season. It's easy to see why.

"We have the No. 1 offensively efficient team in the country, I believe," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said Sunday. "At one point we were on a record pace with our field goal percentage. So, what we're doing is working."

Dome effect?

The last time UCLA played in a football stadium was two seasons ago in Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium, the same place it will play against Gonzaga.

The results weren't pretty. The Bruins beat Texas, 65-63, but both teams struggled to make jumpers. UCLA shot 18.2% from behind the arc. The Longhorns shot 20%.

Research on the effect large stadiums have on shooting is tricky. The sample size is small, and it's difficult to correct for strength of opponents and the movement of the three-point line in 2008.

Any negative effect on shooting would probably help UCLA. Gonzaga is third in the nation in three-point shooting percentage and second in field-goal percentage, but it hasn't played in a football stadium in years. Forward Kyle Wiltjer, who transferred from Kentucky, played in the Georgia Dome in 2012 and made two of five shots.

Senior guard Norman Powell said the previous trip to Houston was difficult because the teams didn't have much time to get used to shooting in the stadium.

This time, he said, "I think it'll be a lot different."


Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand