High-scoring GU faces stingy UCLA tonight
The irresistible force meets the immovable object.
In the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at the McCarthey Atheltic Center that means the Gonzaga offense and the UCLA defense, which collide tonight at 6:30.
The third-seeded Bruins (28-4) allow opponents just 54.3 points per game, and the 11th-seeded Bulldogs (29-4) average 86.2.
Both reach those numbers by going full court, but for opposite reasons.
Gonzaga has scored more than 90 points 16 times, and UCLA has allowed fewer than 50 points 14 times. That was the case in Saturday’s first-round games, when the Bulldogs outscored Iowa State 92-86 and UCLA turned back Montana 55-47.
“It just goes to show you there are different ways to win basketball games and run a successful program,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said.
A trip to the Sweet 16 next weekend at the Arena is on the line.
“We rely heavily on our defensive pressure, whether it’s turning you over or delaying you,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said. “They are one of the best running teams we’ve seen in a long time. A lot of people run the ball but they’re very efficient. We have to be able to make sure defensively we can set our pressure, so we have to make baskets.”
The eighth-ranked Bruins force 22 turnovers per game, which fuels their offense that averages just 65.3 points.
“We want to limit their touches and scoring opportunities with our suffocating defense,” UCLA junior Jasmine Dixon said.
“We have to get our tempo going,” GU junior Katelan Redmon said. “We can’t allow them to slow down the pace of the game. We have to make sure we get rebounds and get the pace of the game going.”
With Courtney Vandersloot, the national leader in assists (10.2) and assists-to-turnover ratio (3.34) running the offense, the 20th-ranked Bulldogs average only 13.5 miscues.
“It’s very comforting to know the ball is in her hands,” Graves said. “She has to make great decisions and our team has to be active. … We’ve got to do a lot of different things to give them different looks. Fortunately we have very good athletes. … But the bottom line is it’s going to come down to Courtney and how well she can handle that kind of pressure.”
Because UCLA plays so much zone defense the task of slowing the opposition doesn’t fall to one person.
“When you play a team that has a point guard that can also score as well as give other people great looks, hopefully we can wear her down,” Caldwell said. “We want to keep fresh bodies on her because she’s just so potent with the basketball. … We can’t give them the freedom to just run.”
That was what Vandersloot faced in past NCAA tournaments.
“Last year they were definitely physical and strong. That’s why I worked so hard in the offseason so I wouldn’t struggle with it so much,” she said. “I prepared for it and I’m ready for it.
“Just like any press, you want to attack it. They’re big. You don’t want to pick up your dribble because you’ll immediately be surrounded by players. You’ve got to be smart and take care of the ball.”
Both coaches understand it might not be their forte that determines the outcome.
“We’ve got to make shots,” Caldwell said. “Our defense is our bread and butter, but at the end of the day you have to reward yourself by scoring the basketball. Someday you’re going to run into a team that is just as good defensively, so who is going to score?”
Graves said: “If we can get stops, get the ball out and go, that benefits us. We try to make it a full-court game because that takes advantage of our strength. … They can run, they just don’t choose to all the time, but they can actually transition very well.
“I’m really looking forward to see what kind of style wins out. Whoever gets their tempo going has a better chance to win, obviously.”