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GONZAGA UNIVERSITY NEWS RELEASE
Dale Goodwin, Director
Peter Tormey, Associate Director
|Tracking the Zags No. 12: Game Day vs. UCLA|
By Peter Tormey
OAKLAND, Calif. – There are blue skies in the Bay Area today and green lights for the No. 3 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs who will battle the No. 2 seed UCLA Bruins tonight for the right to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Oakland Regional.
Several hundred Zags’ fans and folks curious about these Bulldogs from Spokane that have won 29 games against three losses attended a shoot-around yesterday afternoon that was open to the public. It’s easy to see why folks are interested in the Zags. After all, they ran the table in the West Coast Conference (14-0), captured their record sixth-straight WCC Tournament crown and beat Xavier (79-75) and Indiana (90-80) in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, respectively, to get here. In so doing, the Bulldogs have extended their nation’s longest winning streak to 20 games.
It’s the Sweet Sixteen – when March Madness reaches a fever pitch and the Bulldogs are ready for tip-off in the Oakland Arena at 6:57 p.m., PST, or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the No. 1 seed Memphis vs. No. 14 seed Bradley contest that tips off at 4:27 p.m.
This is Gonzaga’s eighth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, ninth overall, and their fourth foray into the Sweet 16. All three of the teams that beat Gonzaga this year – Washington, U-Conn and Memphis – are in the Sweet 16.
As Zag Nation started its collective motor this morning, the Bulldogs are focusing on beating the formidable Bruins who seem to be peaking now, are loaded with talent and are led in scoring by 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Arron Afflalo who is averaging 16.3 points a game.
Facing the media yesterday afternoon, Afflalo said he will approach today’s game like any other – even though it’s not every day that he plays against the nation’s leading scorer in the Zags’ 6-foot-8 junior forward Adam Morrison, who is averaging 28.2 points a game.
“One of the luxuries of attending UCLA is I get a lot of opportunities to play against pros throughout the summertime. I’ve gone to a few camps, played with Michael Jordan, Paul Pierce, just numerous pros throughout the summer,” Afflalo said. “Just be another game for me.”
The Bruins are extremely stingy on defense of late, holding each of their last eight opponents to under 60 points. Something will have to give because the Bulldogs are averaging over 80 points a game. Afflalo said that while he may start out guarding Morrison, 6-6 senior guard Cedric Bozeman will cover him too, as will 6-7 African-born freshman Luc Richard Mbah A Moute (pronounced Luke ri-SHARD umbah-a-moo-the), the Pacific-10 Conference Freshman of the Year from Cameroon who is averaging 9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
“It’s going to be a collective team effort,” said Afflalo about the Bruins’ plans to slow Morrison. “Of course, I’m going to study his tendencies, with the help of the coaching staff, find out some ways to gain some advantages. Outside of that, I’m going to approach it like every other game.”
Six-foot-2 sophomore guard Jordan Farmar, who is averaging 13.6 points and 5.2 assists this season and was last year’s Pac-10 Freshman of the Year as a true freshman, said defense has defined the Bruins’ success this season.
“Defense, I mean, that says it all. The way we play on the defensive end,” Farmar said. “If you want to go all the way back to November, it was nonexistent compared to what we do now. We’re such a much better team. We’re more of a collective unit. We play for each other. We really care about each other.”
The Bruins’ Bozeman chuckled when asked if he could imagine any player scoring 40 points against them.
“We take a lot of pride in our defense,” he said. “To see one man go for a multitude of points, you know, that’s pretty --- that’s kind of tough. Hopefully that doesn’t happen against us. Hopefully we can do a good job.”
Zags’ Coach Mark Few said Gonzaga is way past the Cinderella stage and has, without a doubt, become part of the national basketball establishment. With that recognition, he told reporters yesterday, has come great expectations, which were intense during the first- and second-round games last week in Salt Lake City.
“I think everybody was making a fairly big issue out of not advancing past the second round,” Few said. “I still think it’s a great accomplishment just to get to the NCAA tournament. It’s the greatest sporting event in the world. There’s a lot of great programs that didn’t make it this year, a lot of great coaches that didn’t make it, a lot of great players that didn’t make it… When you start winning games inside the tournament, it becomes that much more special.”
Few said the flu, which struck senior forward Erroll Knight before the Indiana game and continued on to Morrison on Saturday night and to freshman forward Larry Gurganious, appears to have run its course and that the Bulldogs should be playing at full strength tonight.
In terms of strategy for tonight’s game, Few said the Bulldogs will do what they have done all season to reach this great stage.
“We attack inside out, we play to our strengths. See if we move Adam around a little bit, give him the ball in a variety of different positions, see if we can get J.P. (senior forward Batista) going, who is a big key to who we are; create some opportunities for everybody else playing off of those two. That seems to be what’s worked best for us all year.”
Morrison, for his part, said he doesn’t mind one bit if the Bruins throw everything and the kitchen sink at him because he’s seen it all year anyway, and that it will create scoring opportunities for other Zags.
“It’s not just about me,” said Morrison. “I don’t care how many points I score in the tournament, I just want to win. You know, they can faceguard me, do whatever. Against Indiana, they threw everybody at me. People were getting lay-ups because of it, tip-dunks, so it worked out.”
The 6-9 senior forward-center Batista, who is averaging19.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, said he is ready for a physical contest.
“If they play physical with me, they’re playing my game, so I’m fine with it,” he said.
Meantime, Bay Area Bulldogs and Gonzaga alumni, parents and friends of the university from throughout the nation are invited to a Sweet 16 Pre-game Social and Golf outing in Oakland from 2-4:30 p.m. today. The event will take place at the Monarch Bay Golf Club located at 1300 Neptune Drive. The cost is a mere $10, which includes food, drinks, shuttle service to and from the game and free parking at the golf course. The golfers are on the course now.