HOUSTON – An improved frontcourt means UCLA is a more imposing team than the one Gonzaga beat 87-74 earlier this year.
Kevon Looney and Tony Parker have developed into a frontcourt tandem that is better equipped to take on GU’s size down low than any team the second-seeded Bulldogs have faced since Arizona.
But the Bruins are no better now than they were in December at contesting opponents at the 3-point line, which is going to make it difficult to win their Sweet 16 rematch with the Zags on Friday.
GU scored 1.26 points per possession and both teams made 9 of 19 3-point attempts in the first game, which was a bad night defensively for the Bulldogs and a rule for the Bruins.
Though anything can and frequently does happen during March Madness, GU seems much better equipped to replicate the shooting performance.
UCLA advanced to the Sweet 16 despite allowing UAB to make 12 of its first 22 shots from behind the 3-point line, and beat Southern Methodist despite allowing point guard Nic Moore to hit 6 of 11.
Bruins coach Steve Alford doesn’t seem to think letting opponents shoot deep shots is a bad thing, even though they shoot such a high percentage against the Bruins that it would be difficult to score as efficiently shooting twos.
Last year he told reporters, “If we could make teams shoot more threes, take away more of the inside, I’d be much more in favor of that just because the percentages are going to be in our favor. If I had my way, I’d just as soon teams shoot 30, 35 threes against us.”
GU coach Mark Few would probably be just fine with that.
“We have the No. 1 offensively efficient team in the country, I believe,” Few said. “At one point, we were on a record pace with our field-goal percentage. So what we’re doing is working.”
The Bulldogs shot better than Wyatt Earp in last week’s win over Iowa, opening the game by hitting 5 of 6 shots from downtown and connecting of 10 of 16 overall.
“What you’re talking about with Gonzaga, that’s a hard one,” UCLA coach Steve Alford told the Los Angeles Daily News. “That’s why they’re so good. You could concentrate on the 3-point line, but they’re monsters inside. It’s hard to figure out which you’re going to take away, if any.”
Alford likely doesn’t have a choice which of the two he will take away, but at least in this contest his team can match up with the Bulldogs in one aspect. The first time the two teams played, UCLA center Tony Parker had five points, nine rebounds and four fouls.
Freshman forward Kevon Looney fared a little better, scoring 14 points and nabbing eight rebounds, but also fouled out.
Looney developed nicely this season and was the Pac-12’s best offensive rebounder. Parker is coming off a career game against UAB in which he scored 28 points and collected 12 boards.
Parker, at 6-foot-9, 260-pounds, should be able to at least check Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski.
But spend too much energy focused down low and the Bruins risk losing track of GU’s shooters.
So, while the Bruins may have mitigated one of GU’s strengths, the other is still wide open.
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