Los Angeles, CA – Led by strong performances from theirtop two scorers, Kyle Wiltjer and Byron Wesley, the Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the UCLA Bruins 87-74 Saturday night. The victory moves the Bulldogs to 9-1 on the year and evens their road record to 1-1. Meanwhile, the loss denies UCLA Head Coach Steve Alford his 500th win of his career, and drops the Bruins to 8-3 on the season. UCLA had been riding an impressive 21 consecutive non-conference home winning streak into the game, but Gonzaga’s size and perimeter shooting proved too much for UCLA to compete with.
Wiltjer’s strong offensive night got the Bulldogs off to a hot start early, pushing the 1st half lead to 20-10 after he connected on a sweet 3-point shot at the 10 minute mark. The junior forward’s game never slowed down from that point, as his 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting (3-of-5 from 3-PT territory) led the Gonzaga attack all night. Wiltjer is a unique offensive talent who at 6’10” and approximately 240 pounds, possesses the much sought after attributes of size and grace. His ability to extend the range on his shot to behind the arc (15-of-38 3FG, 39.5% on the year) as well as connect on a high percentage of difficult shots in the paint, is what has propelled Gonzaga to being ranked 5th in the nation in team field goal percentage.
Not only did UCLA have difficulties trying to slow down Gonzaga’s top scorers, but they’re lack of bench production is beginning to become a weakness for this young Bruins team. Coming into the game,UCLA’s bench had been averaging only 9.8 ppg versus 25.9 ppg for the Zags; on Saturday, Gonzaga completely dominated this bench battle outscoring the Bruins 15-2. Although both teams have at least five players averaging double-digits in points – two of only 10 teams in the nation that can make that claim coming into the game – UCLA must find more offensive support from their bench if they’re going to want to compete against strong power conference teams.
As a result of the poor production night from their bench, the Bruins had to rely heavily on their young guns to keep the score within striking distance. Freshman forward Kevon Looney and sophomore guards Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton were the only Bruins who played well this game. Together, they combined to score 55 of the 74 total points, shooting 47.5 percent on 19-of-40 from the field. The rest of the team struggled going 6-of-20 (30 percent).
Alford’s strong night of 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting (5-of-10 from three), was outdone by Gonzaga’s senior guard and USC transfer, Byron Wesley; his numbers Saturday – 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. After averaging 17.8 ppg for the Trojans last season, Wesley’s scoring numbers have dropped to 12.1 ppg this year. The drop in scoring, however, has more to do with Gonzaga’s balance in scoring and the number of other offensive threats they have than it does with Wesley’s game. Not only did he shoot well from the floor on Saturday, 7-of-8 from the field and 2-of-2 from three, but he is now shooting over 52 percent from the field this season.
Gonzaga now returns home for a two game stretch to face Texas Southern on Monday followed by Cal Poly next Saturday. As for the Bruins, they travel to Chicago to face the #1 ranked Kentucky Wildcats before finishing the year on the road at Alabama.
Quick Tid-Bit: Gonzaga’s victory over UCLA gave them their 8th double digit win of the year. Their only loss came on the road in overtime to current No.3 ranked Arizona.
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