Editor's Early Preview (12/15):
Gonzaga's loss to Arizona takes some of the potential lustre off this powerhouse Top 10 battle. UCONN rarely plays true road games in non-conference play, and their only other away game was a near disaster at Buffalo. (This game is in Seattle, so you might call it a semi-home game for Gonzaga anyways). Gonzaga played some awful (hideous, atrocious, etc) basketball against Arizona, and Jeremy Pargo in particular needs a major bounce back here.
Preview & Prediction: By Fairway Jay
A Saturday matinee billed as ‘The Battle in Seattle’ as #8 Gonzaga (8-1) takes on #2 UCONN (9-0) at Key Arena. This will be the third meeting since 1999; the year that UCONN won the National Title. Gonzaga beat UCONN 86-82 last season in Boston, and the Bulldogs have won eight West Coast Conference (WCC) titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in every year since 1999.
UCONN features five double digit scorers and the Huskies like to run and score, as they average 83ppg. Despite not shooting the ball well this season, senior point guard A.J. Price chips-in nearly 9ppg as the Huskies top 3-point threat and is the clear floor leader. Coach Jim Calhoun likes his team to create breaks to the basket off their pressure defense, and UCONN has been solid thus far holding opponents to 60ppg and just 37% shooting from the field. The Huskies are an athletic and physically imposing team, and 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet (15ppg/67%FG/12rpg) and senior Jeff Adrien (14ppg/55%FG/9rpg) can really dominate the paint. Junior wing Jerome Dyson is meeting expectations while leading the Huskies in scoring (15ppg). He can really penetrate the lane and also open up good looks and scoring options for other players. UCONN planned to arrive a few days early in Seattle, but a Wednesday flight was cancelled and they arrived Thursday evening.
Gonzaga has been battle tested this early season with a top-25 schedule while UCONN has played mostly patsies to stay unbeaten. Gonzaga responded to their first loss at Arizona with a focused effort over winless Texas Southern, 84-42 on Thursday. The Zags just completed finals and dealt with a severe storm on Thursday but overcame the potential letdown, distractions and look ahead to UCONN. Gonzaga is scoring 77ppg and are very efficient on the offensive end. But it’s the Bulldogs top-10 defense that imposes their will by allowing just 58ppg and 35% shooting against a solid slate of opponents. Gonzaga has four double-digit scorers along with their own senior point guard Jeremy Pargo who scores 9ppg and is third in the nation with over 7 assists per game. Senior Josh Heytvelt and sophomore Austin Daye are a pair of 6-11 forwards that lead the team in scoring and rebounding, but they are not quite as physically strong or gifted as their UCONN frontline opponents today.
A national TV audience on CBS will get to see a pair of teams with experience and leadership at point guard and shooters that can really score. But the match-ups inside are worth watching today with Thabeet and Heytvelt likely the key to this contest. Both coaches have had great success in taking their programs to the top, and coach Calhoun will find out today if his experienced and talented team is ready for the Big East battles by taking on a top-team traveling cross country. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has a talented team that has played well against solid competition. They will be a team to watch throughout the season and into the NCAA Tournament, but we’ll go with UCONN to deliver in their first big test of the season.
Winner: UCONN Margin 1-4 points
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About Fairway Jay
Previews & Predictions
Jay Ginsbach, also known as "Fairway Jay’"joins the CHN team and staff this season from Sportsmemo.com. He’ll provide his insight and expertise covering the college basketball scene with periodic thoughts from a Las Vegas perspective.