Dane’s Miller’s UCLA-Gonzaga Maui Invitational Preview

A win could catapult UCLA into the AP Top 25 and make the Hawaii trip a resounding success

Posted on November 22, 2023

  By Dane Miller, SuperWest Sports

Pac-12The Bruins finish their Maui Invitational tonight with a consolation game against Gonzaga.

A win would likely catapult UCLA into the AP Top 25 and make the trip to Hawaii a resounding success.

I preview the game here and my pick appears at the bottom.

No. 11 Gonzaga vs. UCLA

Wednesday, November 22
9:00 pm PT, ESPN2

For the fourth time since 2021, UCLA takes on Gonzaga.

Mick Cronin’s team exceeded expectations in the opening round of the Maui Invitational, falling just short against a Marquette team that has advanced to the Championship Game.

It was a surprising final score to some, although Cronin subsequently lambasted those who doubted his team’s quality.

The Zags have five players averaging in double-figures yet the primary rotation only goes seven deep.  Of those contributors, three are guards, one is a true wing, and the other three are bigs.

It’s a somewhat unique roster composition and the guards are slightly undersized.

UCLA might have the pieces to adequately counter it with a plug-and-play combination of guards who play like wings.

Sebastian Mack, Dylan Andrews, Will McClendon, and Lazar Stefanovic are all interchangeable pieces that can move freely between the one, two, and three positions.

UCLA’s Dylan Andrews vs Chaminade | Marco Garcia/Associated Press

It allows Cronin to use variable lineups without missing a beat. Some might describe it as depth, but it might better be characterized as an interoperable, compatible, and multifaceted roster.

Matched up against the three Gonzaga guards, Cronin’s backcourt won’t be overmatched.

Neither team is a strong three-point shooting unit, either, making the battle of the two backcourts expected to be somewhat of a wash.

That could make the game come down to the matchup between the bigs. Burying the lede here, but Gonzaga’s offense runs primarily through its frontcourt.

Graham Ike and Braden Huff are the team’s two leading scorers and rebounders. Ben Gregg is another option off the bench that gives Mark Fox three different bigs to rotate.

But Cronin has Adem Bona and Aday Mara to match. It goes without saying, but both Bona and Mara must have strong games on both sides of the court for UCLA to secure the upset.

Gonzaga’s Graham Ike vs. Syracuse | Marco Garcia/AP

The X-Factor could end up being the showdown between Anton Watson and whoever Cronin decides to assign to him. Berke Buyuktuncel seems like the most logical choice, but it could be a tough matchup for the freshman.

Cronin had no answer for Marquette’s David Joplin, and Watson is very similar. If Watson goes off as well, it could indicate the primary flaw in UCLA’s roster composition.

In other words, do the Bruins have an adequate answer for a power forward who has the skills of a small forward?

Time will tell.

Either way, this game figures to be closer than some expect.

If UCLA can limit its turnovers, hit its threes, and keep the rebounding margin close, the Bruins can pull off the upset.

Dane Miller’s Game Pick

—More from Dane Miller—