LOS ANGELES – Gonzaga’s guards entered the season regarded among the best in college basketball. The frontcourt is making a strong in-season push for some recognition.
Gonzaga’s frontcourt dominated for the second straight game and wing Byron Wesley enjoyed a 20-point night in his return home as the Bulldogs handled UCLA 87-74 in front of 10,006 Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
Kyle Wiltjer, who spent time in Pauley Pavilion several years ago watching ex-Bruin Kevin Love play, showed off his versatility with 24 points. Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis each had 10 points. Add the 6-foot-5 Wesley to the mix and the four combined for 64 points.
“They’re ballin’ right now,” said guard Kevin Pangos, who, along with fellow guard Gary Bell Jr., heated up in the second half. “They’re playing great.”
The ninth-ranked Zags (9-1), who never trailed, capped a three-game stretch against Pac-12 opponents with a 2-1 record. UCLA (8-3) lost for the first time in eight home games.
“This is, in my opinion, is the best team we’ve played,” said Bruins coach Steve Alford, whose team lost in the Bahamas to nationally ranked Oklahoma and North Carolina.
Gonzaga piled up 13 assists on 17 first-half baskets, beginning with Karnowski finding Wesley for an easy layup on the first possession. Wiltjer was dialed in from the outset, hitting a pair of mid-range jumpers and a left-handed layup while being fouled.
UCLA switched to a zone and Wiltjer promptly buried a 3-pointer, boosting GU’s lead to 20-10. From that point, the Zags led by double digits most of the way.
“They were playing us 1-on-1,” said Wiltjer, who made 9 of 13 shots, including 3 of 5 3-pointers. “We wanted to go at them early and establish that post presence. If they double, we can hit 3s. It’s a tough matchup for (opposing) teams.”
Gonzaga’s lead grew to 28-16 when Wesley connected on a 3-pointer but the Zags’ offense took a 3-minute, 30-second detour with three turnovers and a pair of missed shots.
UCLA pulled within 30-22, but Wiltjer and Kyle Dranginis, who had five points and five assists in the opening half, made jumpers to send the Zags into halftime with a 38-27 lead.
The Bruins made 52 percent of their shots in the second half. They scored 49 points, but each time they cut the deficit below 10 points and got the crowd involved, Gonzaga came up with a timely response.
The Zags won the glass 34-30. They’ve outrebounded every opponent this season. They only had seven offensive boards, but three of them led to second-half baskets. After six straight Bruins’ points, Dranginis had an all-in-one-motion rebound and save that ended with Wesley feeding Sabonis for a layup.
Dranginis hustled up another offensive board that led to a pair of Karnowski free throws. Wesley added another bucket after a Sabonis board that stretched Gonzaga’s lead to 71-58.
UCLA, led by Bryce Alford’s 23 points and Isaac Hamilton’s 18, closed within 71-63, but Pangos knocked down a 3 just as the shot clock expired. The Zags worked the clock down on their next possession before Wiltjer drew a foul and converted two free throws.
“They play five juniors and seniors so they’ve been there and done that,” Bryce Alford said. “They’re really experienced.”
Pangos and Bell Jr. were quiet in the first half, much like in the Washington State game on Wednesday, but both finished strong. Pangos had nine points and four assists. Bell hit a pair of 3s and finished with nine points and three assists.
“I really liked how we just took what they gave us,” GU coach Mark Few said. “I don’t think Gary attempted a shot in the first half. That’s how special this team is, it didn’t matter. Then down the stretch Gary hit a big one, Kevin hit a couple big ones, but our bigs were who we were primarily running a lot of stuff through.”
(9) Gonzaga 87, UCLA 74
Percentages: FG .585, FT .842. 3-Point Goals: 9-19, .474 (Wiltjer 3-5, Wesley 2-2, Bell Jr. 2-2, Dranginis 1-2, Pangos 1-6, Melson 0-2). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 4 (Wesley 2, Sabonis, Karnowski). Turnovers: 13 (Pangos 3, Dranginis 3, Karnowski 2, Bell Jr. 2, Sabonis, Wesley, Wiltjer). Steals: 6 (Wiltjer, Dranginis, Melson, Bell Jr., Karnowski, Pangos). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .417, FT .682. 3-Point Goals: 9-19, .474 (B. Alford 5-10, Powell 2-4, Looney 1-2, Hamilton 1-3). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 5 (Welsh 3, Parker 2). Turnovers: 12 (Looney 3, Parker 3, Allen 2, Welsh, Hamilton, Powell, B. Alford). Steals: 10 (B. Alford 3, Parker 3, Looney 2, Hamilton, Powell). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime—Gonzaga 38-27. A—10,006.
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