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GU notebook: Zags warm up but not the Bruins

By Jacob Thorpe and Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review

HOUSTON – With 2:20 left in Friday’s game, UCLA’s Bryce Alford drilled a 3-pointer – the first of the game for the Bruins. Isaac Hamilton hit one of his own on UCLA’s next possession, and Alford followed with a third, a bank shot, just 11 seconds later.

It was much too late for the Bruins, and far too little for a UCLA team that missed its other 10 3-point attempts. Of course, poor outside shooting was far from the difference in the game; Gonzaga also only made three 3-pointers and the Bulldogs attempted 19 of them.

Both teams shot horribly in their 67 attempts, with GU eking out one more make than UCLA’s 26. In the first half the teams went 6:29 without making a bucket during one anesthetizing stretch.

“We (weren’t) hitting shots that we usually hit all the time,” UCLA’s Tony Parker said. “We have a tough shooting night (then) we got to lock down on defense and (we) kept giving up second shots.”

Those second chances made an outsized impact during a game in which neither team’s offense yielded many successful opportunities. The Bulldogs scored 22 points on 18 offensive rebounds, and outrebounded UCLA 50-39.

And while GU, third nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage, was as cold as a desert night from the perimeter, the Bruins struggled inside and out. Parker was No. 5 in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage this season but made just five of his 12 attempts.

Point guard Alford and guard Norman Powell, No. 6 in the Pac-12 with 16.4 points per game, combined to shoot just 11 of 30. There were eight Bruins who attempted shots in the game and only Thomas Welsh shot better than 50 percent, making his only attempt.

Players from both teams denied that playing in the spacious NRG Stadium, an NFL stadium, threw off their shots.

But consider that in the nightcap between Duke and Utah, the Blue Devils, other than Justise Winslow, shot just 1 of 10 outside the paint and the Utes shot 35 percent for the game. A USA Today study showed that during the 2011 NCAA tournament shooting percentages in games played in arenas were 10 percent better than those played in domes, so it’s at least possible that the setting affected the shooters.

While both teams shot horribly in the first half, the Bulldogs were able to pick it up after halftime, shooting 46.7 percent in the second half.

“The first half was really strange,” GU’s Domantas Sabonis said. “We were not quite used to (the venue). It was loud but not as loud as we thought, so we knew in the second half we had to bring our own energy.”

Sabonis steps up down low

Przemek Karnowski made more than a couple of beautiful passes to set up his teammates for open shots, and had the Bulldogs shot the ball better he would have finished with more than just two assists.

But his two best passes, a pair of behind-the-back bouncers while backing down a Bruin down on the right block, went straight to Sabonis, and he knew just what to do with them.

The first resulted in a dunk, the second a reverse layup as the freshman continues to ascend into the role of a player ready to dominate the West Coast Conference next season. If the NBA doesn’t get its hands on him, that is.

Sabonis scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, leaving Bruins defenders flat-footed by always being the more patient player in a game of chicken. He pump- faked until the UCLA player inevitably lunged at one of his offerings and then score.

This comes on the heels of 18-point, nine-rebound outing against some formidable Iowa bigs in last Sunday’s third-round game and 15 points against BYU in the WCC tournament championship game.

Wesley ruins Bruins

UCLA thought it had seen the last of Byron Wesley when he decided to leave USC after the conclusion of his junior season, and it’s not likely the Bruins shed many tears at the thought of losing a rival. Wesley averaged 16 points in six matchups with his crosstown rival while at USC, scoring 21 and 27 points in his final two games against as a Trojan against the Bruins.

Instead, the Bruins faced Wesley twice, just like in each the previous three seasons. And Wesley, now wearing a Gonzaga uniform, burned them all the same.

“Man, it’s always fun (to play UCLA),” Wesley said. “I have a losing record for my career. Whenever you get a chance to beat the Bruins, it’s always a good day.”

Wesley was the Zags’second-leading scorer in both of the Bulldogs’ victories over UCLA, pouring in 20 points when the Bulldogs beat UCLA in December and adding 14 in Friday’s win. Most of Wesley’s points on Friday came in the first half of their Sweet 16 win, when the rest of the team was struggling offensively.

Dranginis delivers

Kyle Dranginis had a stretch of five scoreless games in seven outings late in the regular season but he’s been at his versatile best in the postseason.

Dranginis provided another big boost off the bench against UCLA with four points, six rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 20 minutes. His 3-pointer from the corner with 4:20 left put to rest any serious thoughts of a Bruins comeback.

“That one felt great,” he said. “It felt like there had been a lid on there from the 3-point line, but like we’ve done all year, we found different ways to win.”

Dranginis scored in double figures twice in the WCC tournament, including the title-game win over BYU. He had eight points, four rebounds and three assists in the NCAA win over North Dakota State. “He’s come in every time and given us a lift,” Few said. “That 3 was just a dagger.” Few credited Dranginis and Gary Bell Jr. for their defensive efforts on Alford, who was limited to eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Cantwell cheers on GU

Senator Maria Cantwell was on hand to watch Gonzaga beat the Bruins, cheering on the Bulldogs from a front-row seat behind the GU bench. Cantwell, born and raised in Indianapolis, plans to return to her hometown to support the Zags.

“It’s great to see their success, because this team has fought hard all year-round,” Cantwell said. “To play at this kind of level in the tournament shows you that they’re really a great team.”

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