Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. UConn Huskies
Line: UConn -2
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: Saturday, 3/25 at 8:49 p.m. ET
College basketball fans can only hope Gonzaga’s Elite Eight game on Saturday night lives up to the drama that unfolded when the Bulldogs beat UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.
They erased a 13-point halftime deficit to take a 10-point lead with 2:40 remaining, but UCLA rallied to take the lead of its own with 12.2 seconds remaining. The Zags tallied the final blow on a 3-pointer from Las Vegas native Julian Strawther with 7.2 seconds left on a play that was reminiscent Kris Jenkens’ game-winner for Villanova in the 2016 national championship against North Carolina.
“It’s moments like that you can’t make up,” Strawther said. “Those are literally the moments you dream of. To even make a shot like that in March Madness and just to be back home in Vegas is like the cherry on top.”
Gonzaga will have to recover from that emotional high before facing fourth-seeded UConn, which steamrolled No. 8 seed Arkansas on Thursday. The Huskies have won all three of their NCAA Tournament games by at least 15 points, putting them third (+450) in the DraftKings’ championship futures market on Friday afternoon.
Oddsmakers opened UConn as a 1.5-point favorite on Thursday night before the early betting action moved the line to -2. The total opened at 153.5, which is where it remained as of Friday—Gonzaga has gone ‘over’ the total in 10 of its last 13 games.
The Bulldogs have now played a couple thrillers in the Big Dance, beating TCU by three points last Sunday. Senior forward Drew Timme had 28 points and eight rebounds against the Horned Frogs before racking up 36 points, 13 rebounds and four assists against UCLA, further cementing his legacy as one of the most storied players in college basketball history.
He leads KenPom’s top-ranked offense with 21.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game this season, setting a record with 10 NCAA Tournament games of at least 20 points. The Bulldogs are No. 2 in 2-point percentage (58.5) and No. 10 in 3-point percentage (38.3) to go along with a top-15 turnover rate.
Things get even tougher for Gonzaga on Saturday night, as UConn ranks inside the top 15 in adjusted efficiency on both ends of the court. The Huskies obliterated Arkansas from start to finish in the Sweet 16, displaying a ceiling that the metrics have been eluding to throughout the season.
They did it in the first two rounds as well, cruising to comfortable wins against No. 13 seed Iona and No. 5 seed Saint Mary’s. Thursday felt different, though, as Arkansas had just knocked off Kansas and seemed to have all of its talent working at the right time. UConn held the Razorbacks under 32% from the floor while shooting 57.4% on the other end.
‘They’ve got a real complete team, probably the most complete team in the country,” Arkansas guard Ricky Council IV said. “I think they can definitely win it all.”
They outrebounded the Razorbacks 43-31 and outscored them 42-24 in the paint, led by 18 points and eight rebounds from junior forward Adama Sanogo. He is averaging 17.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, while sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins is chipping in 16.1 points and 3.7 rebounds.
The Huskies have the second-best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball, which has allowed them to offset a turnover rate that is No. 241. They are facing a Gonzaga defense that is No. 73 in adjusted efficiency and No. 235 in effective field goal percentage.
UConn has covered the spread in eight of its last nine games, going ‘under’ in five of its last seven. Gonzaga is 10-1 in its last 11 games against Big East opponents and is riding a 12-game winning streak.
The pick: UConn -2
I’d be surprised if UConn’s streak of blowouts continued on Saturday night, but the Huskies are the play at this number. Gonzaga was able to get away with some glaring defensive issues against UCLA when the Bruins went ice cold from everywhere on the court for a lengthy stretch in the second half, but that’s going to be tough to overcome against UConn’s interior. The Huskies have the second-best offensive rebounding percentage in college basketball for a reason, and they are an elite defensive team as well. Their mid-season consistency issues are the only downside here, but that’s not enough to steer me away from them against an emotionally fatigued Gonzaga team.