Lorenzo Bonam may be the key to a Utah victory on Saturday night. The junior guard has been scoring more of late with 14+ in 4 of his last 5 games. He's been attcking the rim and the mid-range game has been strong recently. If he can cut down on the turnovers, it will go a long ways towards a Utah victory. Brandon Taylor just keeps doing his thing with steady play and a calming presence on the court. He may have been Utah's best player on Thursday night against Fresno State. Against the bigger Gonzaga guards, Taylor will have his hands full, but his on-court leadership and all-around game on both ends should be a thorn in the Bulldogs' side.
Gonzaga's guards aren't elite by any means, but they are solid. Josh Perkins is well rounded, coming in averaging 10.2 points, 4.1 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per contest as a freshman. Senior Eric McClellon averages 10.5 per game as well, but makes his bones on the defensive end as he was named WCC Defensive Player of the Year. Neither is great 3 point shooter at under 39% each, but they both have good size and could present some issues for the Utah guards in that capacity. Statistically, the two sets of guards are equal, but Utah's have gone up against much tougher competition
Kyle Kuzma has disappeared the past few weeks, especially on the offensive end where he has single digit scoring efforts in 7 of his last 8 games. Kuz needs to be more confident and look to score inside against Gonzaga to take the pressure off of Poeltl. His biggest challenge will come on defense though as he draws one of the top scorers in the country. All Jordan Loveridge needs to do on Saturday is play average defense and hit his 3s. He's been timely with his long-range shooting over the last month, and coming off of a 4-8 effort on Thursday, should be able to continue his hot streak if he gets open looks.
Kyle Dranginis is more of a guard, but we'll slot him with the fowards for the matchup and he'll likely draw Jordan Loveridge on D. Kyle Wiltjer is one of the best forwards in the country, starting the year as a preseason all american by most publications. He's an outside-in guy that does a lot of damage from deep with a sweet shooting stroke and a 6'10" body. The senior comes in averaging over 20 points per game, but isn't the most physical player. Still, he's one of the best players in the country and is going to be a tough matchup for Kuzma and Chapman.
This might be a match-up of the top two centers in the entire country with Jakob Poeltl and Domantas Sabonis. Both average 17+ points per game with Poeltl pulling down 9 boards and Sabonis 11. Both shoot the ball at over 60% from the field, but Sabonis does have the ability to step out and hit a jumper if needed. Poeltl is the better defender and has gone up against tougher competition this season. Sabonis does have a penchant for committing a lot of fouls, having fouled out 4 times this year. This should be a fun matchup, but the slight edge goes to the Austrian.
Gonzaga has pretty much no bench and may have the shortest rotation of any team in the tournament. Once big man Permezek Karnowski went down with an injury early in the season, it took them down to a 6, sometimes 7, man rotation. Guard Silas Melson is really the only bench guy that contributes at 6.8 points per game. He's mostly a 3 point shooter that knocks them down at a 39% rate.
Utah will need more out of their bench Saturday than they got on Thursday and that will need to start with Dakari Tucker on both ends. The big Gonzaga guards will likely force him to play more minutes in matching up. Brekkott Chapman needs to have a big game on defense. When he's in, he'll be on Wiltjer and will need to keep the high scoring forward from getting good looks. Chris Reyes will play his 4-8 minutes and hopefully keep the score even while he's in.
Utah 74 Gonzaga 70