The bottom of the west region has been chalk up to this point, which has led us to tonight’s Sweet 16 showdown between three-seeded Gonzaga and the two-seed UCLA Bruins. We’ll preview the game before going over why I’ll be targeting a moneyline play in this one.
Since 2015, the Bulldogs and Bruins have met twice in big-time tournament games, and both times Gonzaga has come away with the win. The most recent meeting came back in 2021 when UCLA made it to the final four from the play-in game, but ultimately the Bulldogs would walk away with a 93-90 overtime victory.
One of the biggest reasons the Bruins made it to that game was Jaime Jaquez Jr., and through the first two games of this year's tournament, he averaging 20.5 PPG. Jaquez Jr., Amari Bailey, and Tyger Campbell have needed to step up big-time since UCLA is without Jaylen Clark. After a big offensive game in the round of 64, the Bruins relied on their number two-ranked defensive efficiency on KenPom to secure their win over Northwestern.
UCLA ranks 18th in the country in opponent turnovers per game and will need to play one of their best defensive games of the season tonight since Gonzaga has the highest offensive efficiency rating on KenPom at 123.5. The Bulldogs have scored 82 and 84 points through the first two games of the tournament, and the combination of Drew Timme and Julian Strawther has looked highly impressive up to this point.
The main cause for concern from Gonzaga backers this season has been their defense, and that is understandable when you see they rank 75th in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Gonzaga needed a 51-point second half to lead them to their three-point win over TCU in the round of 32. Their offense has had to offset many defensive shortcomings this season, especially since the defense ranks 245th in the country in opponent effective field goal percentage.
Gonzaga is currently listed at (+105) on the moneyline, and I’ll be backing them for my play in this one. I think the Bulldogs can force the Bruins to play at their tempo and out-offense them. Gonzaga has the best shooting percentage and the 10th-best three-point percentage in the country, and most of their efficient looks come from their impressive ball movement.
The Bulldogs are averaging 16.1 assists per game and rank 10th in assists/turnover ratio, so it will not be easy for the Bruins to get them out of their offense. Additionally, Drew Timme has had a lot of success against the Bruins in the past, as he averaged 21.5 PPG in his two games against them while shooting above 50% in both contests.
Gonzaga has defensive capabilities in them, and that was made clear in the WCC championship game over St. Mary’s. I trust the veteran Bulldogs and experienced Mark Few to come out with a solid defensive game plan against a UCLA team that is ranked 144th in effective field goal percentage and 163rd in shooting efficiency. It will likely be another battle, but ultimately I trust the Bulldogs to come away with the outright win.
Gonzaga Bulldogs (+105)