UCLA headed home after 74-62 loss to Gonzaga in Sweet 16

HOUSTON (AP) UCLA opened the second half of the regional semifinal against Gonzaga hot, scoring six straight points to get within 1.

Then the shots simply stopped falling and for five excruciating minutes, the Bruins didn’t score a single point as Gonzaga stretched the lead, rolling to a 74-62 win on Friday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

”We missed layups,” Kevon Looney said. ”The transition is where we always score. It’s plays like that (that) will kill us. We have to play almost perfect to win and we didn’t.”

The victory puts Gonzaga (35-2) in the Elite Eight for the second time, its first regional final since 1999. The Bulldogs will play the winner of the Utah-Duke game on Sunday.

Gonzaga’s big run came thanks to the powerful inside game of 7-foot-1, 288-pound Przemek Karnowski. He led Gonzaga with 18 points and nine rebounds. Karnowski helped the Bulldogs grab six more offensive rebounds than UCLA, which Bruins coach Steve Alford believes was the key to the game.

”We didn’t rebound the basketball,” Alford said. ”They got too many second shots.”

The Bruins (22-14) lost in the Sweet 16 for the second straight year. They were led by Norman Powell’s 16 points.

They quieted doubters who questioned whether they should be in the tournament by winning their first two games, but couldn’t stay with the Bulldogs on a night when their shots weren’t falling. Powell made just 8 of 19 shots and Bryce Alford was 3 of 11.

”They’re not known for their defense because of how good they are on offense, but I thought they had a good game plan for us tonight and they made it really tough on us,” Bryce Alford said.

It’s Gonzaga’s second win over UCLA this season after also beating the Bruins in December. Gonzaga’s only loss to UCLA in the four-game history of the series came in a 73-71 defeat in the regional semifinal in 2006.

The Bruins scoring drought early in the second half ended on a jump shot by Looney and cut it to 47-36 with 13 minutes left.

Domantas Sabonis drew ooh’s and ahh’s from the crowd when the 6-10 Lithuanian grabbed a bounce pass from Karnowski and sailed over Isaac Hamilton for a one-handed dunk that made it 51-37 with 11 minutes remaining.

Karnowski found Sabonis again a few minutes later, when he passed it behind his back and Sabonis finished with a layup to push the lead to 57-43.

”They really got us on the offensive glass,” Looney said. ”You focus on that coming in, but it comes down to how big Karnowski is, how physical Sabonis is. They came out, they had a great game and they played better.”

Gonzaga was up 13-10 less than six minutes into the game when both offenses went cold, combining to miss the next 19 shots.

There were missed layups, shots from the outside that clanged off the rim and even a couple of air balls. No matter what either team tried, they simply couldn’t make a shot for about 6 1/2 minutes. Gonzaga extended the lead a bit with three free throws.

Powell finally ended the field goal drought when he drove into the lane and his layup mercifully fell through the net to cut the lead to 16-12 about eight minutes before halftime. The Bulldogs scored a few seconds later on a jump shot by Karnowski.

Gonzaga led 35-28 at halftime.

VENUE TO BLAME FOR POOR SHOOTING?

With both teams struggling to shoot, many questions were asked about whether the venue caused problems. The games are being played in NRG Stadium, which is home to the Houston Texans, and the setup, with no walls behind either basket, challenges players’ depth perception.

Entering Friday’s game, teams have shot a combined 39.8 percent in nine NCAA Tournament games at NRG. UCLA shot 38.8 percent on Friday and Gonzaga shot 40.3 percent.

But no one on either team would use that as an excuse.

”We just missed shots,” Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer said. ”You either make them or you don’t. We don’t really blame it on the arena or anything like that.”

TIP-INS

UCLA: Alford had eight points. … Looney had nine points and eight rebounds.

Gonzaga: Wiltjer had eight points and 10 rebounds after leading the team in their first two tournament games with 23 and 24 points. … Sabonis scored 12 points before fouling out late.

UP NEXT:

UCLA: As their season ends they wait to see if Looney will stay or declare for the NBA.

Gonzaga: Faces the winner of the Utah-Duke game on Sunday in the regional final.