HOUSTON – Gonzaga senior wing Byron Wesley lives with a Bruin and loves her unconditionally.
“My mom actually went to UCLA so we always had that little bit of a rivalry in the house,” Wesley said. “When I went to USC we had that rivalry the past three years so it’ll be a lot of fun.”
Wesley has two career wins over the Bruins, including an 87-74 victory in December at Pauley Pavilion. He made 7 of 8 shots and scored 20 points. He had nine rebounds and four assists.
Wesley is quite familiar with the Bruins’ Norman Powell, Isaac Hamilton and Tony Parker from the AAU circuit or USC-UCLA contests.
“It’s always exciting to play against UCLA, a school I’ve watched since I was a little kid,” Wesley said. “Definitely have more losses than wins so I’m always looking to repay them for all the games they beat us.”
Wesley’s final thought: “Don’t Bruin your day.”
GU guard Kevin Pangos never lost his train of thought at his cubicle inside NRG Stadium as groups of reporters rotated through with questions. And he never stopped exercising.
Unknown to the crowd around Pangos’ locker, the guard had a golf ball under his right foot. He kept swiveling his foot over the ball because, well, that’s part of his normal routine.
“Body management stuff,” he said. “It’s good for your feet. This is after last season (when he had foot and ankle issues) but it’s something I’ve done for a while. Everything starts with the feet and goes up.”
Donny Daniels doesn’t ask for much, but he did make a special request several months ago when he saw UCLA on Gonzaga’s schedule.
“I asked Tommy (Lloyd, fellow GU assistant coach), ‘I don’t care what other scouts you give me, I just want the UCLA scout,’ ” Daniels recalled.
The reason? Daniels, in his fifth year at Gonzaga, previously served on Ben Howland’s staff at UCLA for seven seasons.
“It wasn’t anything personal or anything like that, there’s no vendetta. I had a great time at UCLA,” the affable Daniels said. “It’s that you have so many scouts and you just think, ‘Hey, that’s my former school that I could be dialed into.’
“I’m focused on all the games, but when you have the scout you’re really dialed in. During the course of the season you have to have some fun games. And that (GU win in December) was a fun game. We took some things away that they were doing, and that was good for us. We have to do the same thing this time.”
Daniels and Brian Michaelson are formulating the scouting report for today’s rematch.
With so many key non-seniors on both teams, perhaps it may be better to think of today’s Gonzaga-UCLA matchup as a prelude to next year’s game, rather than a rematch of the Bulldogs’ win in December.
Because of a home-and-home agreement signed last spring, the Zags and Bruins will meet again on Dec. 12 in Spokane, meaning they will play each other three times in one day less than a calendar year.
For the Bulldogs, playing UCLA is a chance to face stiffer competition than it sees in the West Coast Conference, and boost its RPI. It’s a similar opportunity for UCLA, given the state of the Pac-12 over the last five years or so.
“On the West Coast, you look at the teams on the West Coast, Gonzaga has had a very, very consistent run over the last decade,” coach Steve Alford said. “They do things at a very high level. Obviously with the tradition and history at UCLA and what we’re all about, I think that’s a great West Coast home-and-home.”
At next week’s Final Four, college basketball players will be elevated to a lofty status as the country tunes in for one of the most popular sporting events of the year.
At the Houston South Regional semifinals this week, the players will simply be elevated.
The court at NRG Stadium, home of the NFL’s Houston Texans, is raised about 3 feet above ground level. There is a carpeted buffer area between the court and the drop-off, with seats coming right up to the platform.
Players don’t seem to think the prospect of going over a cliff while diving for a loose ball will make them any more cautious.
“Never thought of that to be honest, if it’s going to help the team than no, you don’t really think twice,” said Pangos. “Hopefully, it doesn’t cause any injury situations.”
The last time Gonzaga played on a raised court was against Indiana University at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on December 6, 2008. Kyle Wiltjer and Angel Nunez played on a raised court at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome for the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, Louisiana, while playing for Kentucky and Louisville, respectively.
The cavernous arena has been configured to seat 31,450 fans with the ends closed off with curtains that form a shooting backdrop. The stadium has a much more open feel to it than most college arenas, with considerably more space behind the baskets.
“You got to get used to the shooting,” said UCLA’s Bryce Alford.
“It’s definitely different, but they’ve done a great job of I think making the background darker. There’s black (curtains) behind both hoops. So, I don’t think it will be too much different than shooting in a normal gym.”
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