College Basketball

UCLA is marching, but unlike USC, can the Bruins actually challenge Gonzaga?

April 3

One L.A. squad down, one to go.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs – to put it lightly – put a beatdown on the USC Trojans on Tuesday, booking their ticket to the Final Four. 

There, Gonzaga will face USC's nemesis, the UCLA Bruins, who began the tournament with a First Four win over Michigan State and landed in the Final Four after an Elite Eight win over Michigan

Now, the Bulldogs will look to pull off a Los Angeles sweep the way the Bruins pulled off a Michigan one – and is there anything UCLA can do to stop it?

That was the topic of discussion between Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe on Wednesday's "Undisputed." Both were skeptical of UCLA's chances after seeing how the Zags bullied the Trojans, even though Sharpe was quick to point out that the NCAA Tournament is what it is because of monumental upsets. 

"Anything is possible. Everybody remembers when NC State beat the Houston Cougars. Nobody thought that could happen. We remember also what Villanova did — what it did against the Georgetown Hoyas. It's a basketball game. In March Madness, we've seen anything can happen."

The upsets Sharpe is referring to are two of the greatest in NCAA Tournament history.

In the 1983 national championship game, the top-seeded "Phi Slama Jama" Houston Cougars – featuring eventual NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler – fell at the buzzer to Jim Valvano's NC State Wolfpack, a 6-seed, 54-52.

Ever seen this play?

Sharpe also referred to the 1985 title game, in which the top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas – led by another eventual NBA Hall of Famer in Patrick Ewing – fell to 8-seed Villanova 66-64.

Despite the historical madness of March, Bayless doesn't see that kind of upset happening when the Bruins and Bulldogs take the floor Saturday, especially after what he saw from the Gonzaga-USC matchup, one he thought would be a lot more competitive than it was.

"Anything will not happen in this game. It will be a mismatch and a rout. It will be over in about three minutes the way the USC game was over.

"I believe that USC actually came in a little overconfident last night because they were much taller, longer, stronger and more athletic than the Zags. ... I believe that Drew Timme, who's projected to be a mid-second-round pick, came out and said, 'I am going to terrorize Evan Mobley,' who's projected to be the second overall pick."

Timme, a sophomore forward for the Zags, was indeed a nuisance for the Trojans from the jump, scoring 13 of his game-high 23 points in the first eight minutes and helping Gonzaga leap to a 25-8 lead at the 11:28 mark of the first half and a 49-30 lead at halftime.

"Drew Timme came out and was out of his mind," Bayless said. "He came out possessed."

To Skip, the scary part of Tuesday's win was his assessment of Gonzaga's play in the wire-to-wire victory.

"I didn't even think Gonzaga played that well," he said.

If that's the case, UCLA could be in for a rough go of it.

Consider this: The Bruins defeated 1-seed Michigan on Tuesday by using a stingy defense to hold the Wolverines to 49 points while scoring 51 themselves. As previously mentioned, the Zags scored 49 points on the Trojans – one of the best defensive teams entering the Elite Eight – in the first half. 

In fact, USC was ranked No. 1 in the country in 2-point field goal defense entering Tuesday's game, according to Ken Pomeroy.

The Trojans had held their previous three NCAA Tournament opponents to a combined 32.1% shooting from the field, 26.0% shooting from 3 and 35.3% shooting from 2.

"We're gonna find out just how good [UCLA's] defense is against Gonzaga," Sharpe said.

In addition to attempting to slow the Zags' offense – which is averaging 88.3 points per game and defeating opponents by an average of 24.0 points in the tournament – the Bruins will have to score. 

UCLA is putting up 73.0 points per game and has twice scored 80 in the tournament. In the First Four, the Bruins defeated MSU 86-80, and in the Sweet 16, they defeated Alabama 88-78. 

But both games went into overtime, and against the Tide, the Bruins scored 23 points in the extra period – meaning they landed at 65 in regulation.

Said Bayless: "Can UCLA get to 80? They've had two overtime games and won [narrowly]. So they're really skating on borrowed time. They're gonna have to play way above their heads in order to give themselves a chance [against Gonzaga]."

"This thing could be [a 20-point blowout]. Gonzaga is really that good."

Bayless and Sharpe did note something that could work in UCLA's favor, and that was the notion that Gonzaga doesn't have a surefire NBA game-changer on its squad, a la the 2012 Kentucky Wildcats championship team that featured future No. 1 pick and eight-time NBA All-Star Anthony Davis.

"Jalen Suggs is a freshman, but he is arguably their best player," Bayless said. "But is he gonna be a dominating pro basketball player? I don't think so. So they don't have a projected superstar on this roster."

On top of that, the tradition-rich UCLA program has transformed itself into a gritty, right-place-at-the-right-time March juggernaut.

"UCLA is vintage March Madness to me," Bayless said. "They are a March Madness creation. ... All of a sudden, UCLA has caught fire."

The Bruins and Bulldogs will tip off at 8:34 p.m. ET Saturday, and Spokane will once again look to earn bragging rights over Southern California.

Will the Bruins get bulldozed by the Bulldogs?

Let the madness continue.


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