Przemek Karnowski dominates inside to save the day for the Zags.
HOUSTON — It has been said about this Gonzaga basketball team that it can beat you in a variety of ways.
Including ugly, apparently.
The Zags were hardly at their fluid, slick-shooting best Friday night, but what they did turn out was good enough to oust UCLA from the NCAA tournament, 74-62, moving GU into the Elite Eight for the first time since its whole improbable burst to prominence began in 1999.
It wasn’t as easy as the score might suggest as an 8-0 UCLA run spanning halftime trimmed what once was a double-digit Zag lead to just one point at 35-34. That prompted a timeout from Gonzaga coach Mark Few.
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Gary Bell Jr., double-teamed on the baseline, flicked in a little 10-footer, launching his team on a 12-0 surge that served to keep the Bruins at bay the rest of the night. After Bell’s bucket, Przemek Karnowski scored from inside for the next three Zag baskets, and Kyle Wiltjer’s short bank shot restored a double-figures lead at 45-34.
Karnowski was dynamite, hitting five of his first seven shots after halftime and dishing two no-look feeds to Domas Sabonis for baskets against the undersized Bruins. Karnowski had 18 points.
The Zags (35-2) hit just two of their first 18 three-point attempts as Few’s concerns about the unusual shooting background in NRG Stadium — home of the NFL Texans — seemed to be realized.
But UCLA (22-14) wasn’t much more effective. It took fewer threes, but didn’t hit its first one until Bryce Alford hit one with 2:19 left and the game out of hand.
As long as there is still college basketball, Gonzaga fans will never feel complete redemption for the 2006 Sweet 16 defeat against UCLA after their team had a nine-point lead with 3½ minutes left. But this one, at the same stage of the tournament, brought the Zags a bit of solace, as well as a spot against the Duke-Utah winner for a trip to the Final Four.
The first half was anything but aesthetic, played in the cavernous dome with little atmosphere.
At one stretch, the teams went six minutes, 28 seconds without either making a field goal. Sub big man Thomas Welsh scored inside to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 13-10 with 14:21 remaining, and then the drought began, as Gonzaga missed 11 consecutive shots and UCLA eight. When Norman Powell finally broke the spell with a fastbreak bucket right at the eight-minute mark, all it did was snip the Zags’ lead to 16-12.
Each team warmed up some, and when Byron Wesley floated home a three-pointer with 5:10 left, the Zags had their first double-digit lead at 25-14. But later, Wesley missed a wide-open layup that would have given his team a 13-point lead at the 2:48 mark, and that seemed to mark a resurgence by the Bruins, who got two three-point plays by Tony Parker before intermission.
The half ended with the Zags executing poorly and nearly incurring a shot-clock violation by Wesley, followed by an unsuccessful drive by UCLA’s Powell.
Wesley guarded Powell, who hurt the Zags consistently with right-hand drives, going 6 of 11 before the break for 12 points. Meanwhile, Wesley hit four of 10 shots to lead Gonzaga with nine points.
The Zags hit only two of 11 three-point shots, and UCLA went bust in three tries from distance. The surprise was that with Powell’s penetrating baskets, the Bruins led in points in the paint, 22-20.
Gonzaga’s starting guards, Bell and Pangos, each drew two fouls and were subbed in and out. UCLA’s Alford also had two.