Two years ago, Gonzaga and UCLA played a Final Four game for the ages. On Thursday, the No. 3 seed Zags and No. 2 Bruins meet in a West Region Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game from Las Vegas – easily the marquee of all the Sweet 16 matchups.
Here are our side and total picks with NCAAB odds from the top-rated online sportsbooks.
NCAAB Pick: Gonzaga +2.5 (-110) at BetMGM
Thursday, March 23, 2023 – 09:45 PM EDT at T-Mobile Arena
This writer expects Thursday night’s Gonzaga-UCLA matchup to draw the highest ratings and take the most betting action of any Sweet 16 matchup on the NCAA Tournament schedule, and I’d expect the winner to knock off either No. 8 Arkansas or No. 4 UConn on Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.
Gonzaga leads the all-time series 5-2. No one will soon forget their Final Four matchup two years ago in Indianapolis when the unbeaten Bulldogs were pushed to the limit and then some by the No. 11 Bruins but won it 93-90 in OT on a Jalen Suggs banked-in buzzer-beater from near half-court – easily one of the five most memorable shots in Big Dance history, although Gonzaga’s chance at history was ruined in the NCAA title game by Baylor.
Suggs is now with the Orlando Magic, but there are a few key players on each side still around from then.
Target Off Gonzaga’s Back
Of course, the Zags are yet to win a national title despite all their success otherwise, and it could be that not getting a No. 1 or No. 2 seed is exactly what Coach Mark Few’s team needed this year: a bit of an underdog to cut down the nets instead of the hunted and tournament favorite. “I would just say from the pressure level aspect, I would say it takes something off of us not really being a No. 1 seed,” guard Rasir Bolton said last week.
Gonzaga beat No. 14 Grand Canyon 82-70 in Round 1 and then No. 5 TCU 84-81 on Sunday – that was absolutely a crushing beat for Bulldogs’ -4.5 bettors. It looked like Gonzaga would cover after two Hunter Sallis free throws with under a second left made it 84-78, but TCU’s Damion Baugh rolled the ball upcourt afterward and no Zags player engaged him so the clock didn’t start. Baugh then hit a meaningless long three-pointer for the final score and a miracle cover for TCU bettors.
Drew Timme, who has been playing college basketball since about 2010, led the Zags with 28 points and eight rebounds vs. the Frogs. The reason the All-American Timme has stuck around Spokane for so long despite being a fabulous college player is that he’s not much of a pro prospect because he doesn’t have much shooting range. Timme hit a huge three-pointer against the Frogs – his first made three since December – as part of a 13-1 run that helped Gonzaga take a seven-point lead with just under nine minutes left after trailing most of the game.
13th Time Reaching the Sweet 16
It’s the eighth straight trip to the Sweet 16 for Gonzaga, the longest active run nationally by far. The streak is the third longest streak of all time behind only North Carolina, which reached the Sweet 16 for 13 straight years (1981-93), and Duke, which did it for nine (1998-2006). The Bulldogs have the most wins in the NCAA Tournament since 2017, going 19-5.
Led by Timme, who leads the nation in made field goals, Gonzaga leads the country in scoring at 87.3 ppg and in shooting at 52.6%. Coach Few’s team played one Pac-12 school this year, thumping Washington 77-60 on Dec. 9. UCLA beat UW twice, by 25 and nine points. Gonzaga failed to score 75 points in each of its five overall losses.
- Bulldogs are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 Thursday games.
- Bulldogs are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 games following an ATS loss.
- Over is 9-3 in Bulldogs’ last 12 overall.
Bruins Have Injury Concerns
If UCLA was fully healthy, I’d pick the Bruins not just here but probably to win the national championship – the Pac-12 hasn’t had a title winner since Arizona in 1997 and the Bruins are the only team left from that conference. They aren’t healthy as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Jaylen Clark (13.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) suffered a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale.
UCLA didn’t miss Clark in Round 1 in blowing out UNC Ashville but did in Round 2, a 68-63 win over Northwestern, and certainly will here to guard Gonzaga’s Timme. Clark isn’t the only injury concern, either.
Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona was clearly in pain after aggravating a shoulder injury in the win over the Wildcats (that shoulder cost Bona two games in the Pac-12 Tournament) and senior sharpshooter David Singleton injured his ankle in the game. It looked very bad live, but Singleton says he expects to play in this game. He is UCLA’s all-time leader in games played and is one of the Pac-12’s most prolific three-point shooters ever.
Jaime Jaquez Jr. led UCLA with 24 points against Northwestern, while freshman Amari Bailey finished with 14 points and six assists, and Tyger Campbell totaled 12 points – all at the free-throw line. Jaquez Jr. moved ahead of Hall of Famer Bill Walton and into the No. 12 spot on UCLA’s career scoring list. Jaquez Jr. and Campbell have each played in 11 career NCAA Tournament contests (9-2 record).
Battle of Opposites
The Bruins have advanced to the Sweet 16 in six of the past 10 seasons (2014, 2015, 2017, 2021, 2022, and 2023). Too bad this game is in Las Vegas instead of somewhere in California as UCLA is now 31-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament games played in the state of California.
This will be a battle of opposites as Gonzaga is dynamic offensively, while UCLA has limited the opposition to fewer than 70 points in 31 of 36 games. It ranks No. 6 nationally in the fewest points allowed per game (60.2) and second in turnover margin (+5.5).
- Bruins are 5-1-1 ATS in their last 7 games overall.
- Over is 5-2 in Bruins’ last 7 overall.
- Over is 6-1 in Bruins’ last 7 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600.
As of this writing, about 59% of spread action at OddsTrader is on Gonzaga – and so am I. On the total of 145.5 points, there’s a 77% lean on the under, but I disagree there.
NCAAB Pick: Gonzaga +2.5 (-110) at BetMGM
NCAAB Pick: Over 145.5 (-110) at BetMGM