A breakdown of the national semifinal between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 11 UCLA:
Tyger Campbell had a strong sophomore year for UCLA. He has been terrific in the tournament, committing just six turnovers in five games. But now he faces Jalen Suggs, a likely top-three pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, a dynamic talent scouts think will be an All-Star at the next level. Suggs is coming off one of his best performances of the season, an 18-point, 10-rebound, eight-assist masterpiece in the West Region final rout of USC, and at 6-foot-4, he will be a load for the 5-foot-11 Campbell.
It’s easy to overlook Joel Ayayi with all the talent on Gonzaga, which is what makes this team so lethal. Ayayi defends at a high level, is a potent 3-point shooter and an elite rebounding guard who could end up being a first-round draft pick. UCLA’s Jules Bernard, meanwhile, is feast or famine. He can get hot from deep, but is inconsistent, as his two single-digit scoring performances in the tournament suggest.
This is the one spot at which UCLA has the clear advantage. Johnny Juzang has gone from a disappointment at Kentucky to a hero in his hometown, leading Cinderella UCLA to the Final Four for the first time in 13 years. The 6-foot-6 wing scored 28 of his team’s 51 points in the Elite Eight upset of No. 1 Michigan and is averaging 21.6 points in the tournament. Andrew Nembhard is just another piece for Gonzaga, a complementary player whose big task will be slowing down Juzang.
It will be like looking in the mirror for Corey Kispert and Jaime Jaquez Jr., two stretch forwards who shoot it exceedingly well from deep. Gonzaga’s Kipsert, an Associated Press first-team All-American, is just better at it.
Drew Timme got the better of USC phenom Evan Mobley and quality Creighton big man Christian Bishop. The long-armed, mustached 6-foot-10 Timme has been arguably the best player in the tournament, averaging 21.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists. Foul trouble has been a frequent problem for UCLA’s Cody Riley, who is productive when he is on the floor, and a strength of Timme’s is drawing fouls. This seems ominous for the Bruins.
Each team has plenty of potential with its reserves, a number of top recruits who have yet to produce at the college level, but production has been minimal. Gonzaga forward Anton Watson is the most likely bench player to make a difference, particularly if Timme finds himself in foul trouble. UCLA’s David Singleton is capable, who scored 15 points in the Sweet 16, as a zone-busting 3-point shooter.
Mark Few has turned Gonzaga from a mid-major Cinderella into an annual title contender, leading the Bulldogs to 21 straight tournament berths. Mick Cronin already has UCLA in the Final Four in just his second season, after reaching the tournament his last nine years at Cincinnati. Both are elite coaches, but operate differently. Defense and toughness are Cronin’s calling cards. Few’s teams are frequently offensive tacticians.
UCLA wasn’t a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and was nearly one-and-done in the First Four. This run will be remembered in Westwood for years to come. But Gonzaga might be one of the greatest college teams of all time. Suggs, Timme and Kispert combine for 60 points.
Gonzaga 81, UCLA 64