In a battle of top West basketball programs, Utah and Gonzaga will square off on Saturday in the Round of 32, with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16. While many are familiar with the Bulldogs, who have been a national power at times throughout their history, the two teams have not had an opportunity to square off this season, a potential disadvantage as the two head coaches scramble to put together a game plan for Saturday’s game.
In preparation for the matchup, The Daily Utah Chronicle sat down with Eden Laase, sports editor of The Gonzaga Bulletin, to get the inside scoop.
What kind of style does Gonzaga play? And how successful do you see that style being against the Utes?
Eden Lasse: Gonzaga plays a really balanced team game. They are a little top-heavy with Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer being the top scorers, but other guys chip in every night. Eric McClellan will get points, Josh Perkins will get points, a lot of guys can step up and score. I think the big thing for this game is the matchup in the post. It’s interesting to see pretty much two of the same player going at it, that’s not something you see very much anymore in this guard-dominated game. It’ll be very interesting.
The obvious matchup that everyone wants to see is Domantas Sabonis vs. Jakob Poeltl. How do you see this matchup playing out and has Sabonis seen a talent like Poeltl this season?
EL: I don’t think Sabonis has played a center that’s so similar to him, so I think it’ll be interesting, given the fact that they are both European-style big men playing against each other. Honestly, I don’t know who is the better post or who will come out on top, but I do think it’s going to be cool to watch.
Watching Sabonis’ footwork is like art. Sometimes I get taken aback watching him because he’s so good and so efficient. I think Poeltl is the only post player that Gonzaga has faced where his field-goal percentage is better than Sabonis’. They are just both so efficient.
What player outside of the Sabonis-Wiltjer duo should Utah keep an eye on?
EL: I think Silas Melson is a huge impact player for Gonzaga. They talked about Eric McClellan shutting down Isaiah Whitehead from Seton Hall, but Melson was guarding him a lot of the time, too. He’s just a really solid defender who has a huge ability to score. He can have games where he’s really cold, but he can have games where he’s really hot, and lately, he’s been really hot.
Another player whose game I’ve really liked is Kyle Dranginis. He’s a fifth-year guy and is the definition of a glue guy. He just has a way of making sneaky plays to help his team out.
While Gonzaga is never really viewed as mid-major, will playing in the West Coast Conference (WCC) hurt Gonzaga going against the team that finished second in the Pac-12?
EL: I don’t think so. People always hate on the WCC, and in some ways, that’s fair. But BYU is no slack team; neither is St. Mary’s. And the Bulldogs played a really tough non-conference schedule. So, I don’t think it’s actually going to hurt them.
How do you see this game playing out?
EL: I think this game is going to be a really close matchup. These are two teams who play similar styles and who are both composed and poised. Both teams had a high number of turnovers on Thursday, but I don’t think that’s going to happen on Saturday. I think it will be more of a calmed-down game, with neither forcing anything, but it should be really close. I can see it being more on the low-scoring side, but definitely not a blowout.