Perfect No More
On Saturday night, then-No.1-ranked Gonzaga’s (29-1, 17-1 WCC) dreams of an undefeated season, came to an end when BYU (21-10, 12-6 WCC) stunned the Bulldogs at home, 79-71. The unranked Cougars had never beaten a No. 1 team in team history before Saturday night, but have now won in Spokane three straight times.
This game started out like most Gonzaga games have in the 2016-17 season. The Bulldogs built a large 18-2 lead in the first five minutes and were up by as many as 10 points in the second half. However, their 15 turnovers, 1-of-16 shooting from three-point range and BYU’s 12 offensive rebounds capped off an incredible rally. The upset has shaken Monday’s rankings and undeniably will have an impact on the complexion of college basketball, especially now that March nears.
The Bulldogs have lost their position atop the nation’s polls — dropping to No. 4 — and invited a few more doubters of a program with a questionable tournament resume. Although Gonzaga is still projected to be a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs cannot afford to lose another game. The pressure lies on head coach Mark Few to make sure his players understand that although a perfect season is no longer at stake, the Zags still have a lot to play for, including proving a lot of doubters wrong.
Baylor Breaking Down
In their 72-69 loss against then-unranked Iowa State (19-9, 11-5 Big 12) Saturday night, Baylor (23-6, 10-6 Big 12) gave the NCAA tournament seeding committee something else to worry about. The Bears let the Cyclones shoot 58 percent from the field, 8-of-15 on three-pointers, and 12-of-15 from the line, and still lost despite dominating the Cyclones in second-chance points with 26 compared to Iowa State’s two and owning the rebounding advantage 37 to 17.
Now 8-6 after its blistering 15-0 start, Baylor no longer looks to be a true contender for any championship title. They continue to miss their chance to bolster their postseason resume with quality wins, and often fail to capitalize on unexpected contributions, coming last game in the form of Junior Al Freeman’s 17 points and 5-of-5 shooting from three-point range. The Bears must play with more tenacity and discipline to prevent a third straight early round excite from the NCAA tournament. Its enticing matchup against West Virginia (23-6, 11-5 Big 12) provides a great opportunity for Baylor to redeem itself.
Continuing its longstanding inter-conference rivalry, No. 3 UCLA (24-3, 11-3 Pac 12) beat No. 7 Arizona (26-3, 15-1 Pac 12) 77-72 at home on Saturday night in what was a great example of the Bruins’ defensive turnaround. Since surrendering 96 points to then-No. 14 Arizona (26-3, 15-1 Pac 12) in a loss on Jan. 21, UCLA averages 71.5 points per game and hasn’t allowed an opposing team to reach 80 points during its current seven-game win streak, a figure that eight teams reached in their first 20 against the Bruins.
The source of UCLA’s marked improvement is head coach Steve Alford’s decision to use a 3-2 defensive zone spearheaded by star freshman guard Lonzo Ball’s 6-foot-6 frame out in front of the defense. This change has made it more difficult for opponents to drive to the basket and make easy passes around the perimeter.
While UCLA’s defense still ranks 102nd in the nation — by far the worst among ranked teams — the fact that they are no longer simply relying on their high-powered offense to win them games signifies growth for the team. Especially as the tempo of games slows down in tournament play, the Bruins will be a much more legitimate Final Four threat if they can continue to rely on their defense to carry them during their rare offensive cold spells.
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