No. 16 Gonzaga Bulldogs -6 (8-3) 5-4 ATS, 4-5 O/U at Utah Utes +6 (7-5) 6-5 ATS, 5-5 O/U Wednesday, December 31, 2008 Salt Lake City, Utah, Huntsman Center (15,000) 8:00 p.m. EST, TV CBS
By Wilson of Predictem.com
The Huntsman Center, just 25 minutes outside of Salt Lake City, is a place where basketball is deep in tradition. The NCAA Championship game was held here in 1979 when, arguably, the best ever matchup occurred between Larry Birds Indiana State Sycamores and Magic Johnsons Michigan State Spartans.
This years game between the Zags and the Utes will not be as heralded as the 79 final but it may be a match-up worth viewing or betting on. The Utes have had their ups and downs this season as they lost big to Oklahoma 70-52, but only by three points to California 72-69. Utah can play with most teams and they look similar on paper with Gonzaga, even though we know paper is no substitute for an actual performance.
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The Utes are coming off of a win over UC Irvine 60-52, a game where they didnt cover the spread (-11.5) and walk away just 8 points better than their opponent. Utah also lost by a bucket to in-state rival Utah State 66-64. If the Utes want to ring in the New Year with a W they best figure out a way to slow down Gonzagas fantastic athletes, especially Jeremy Pargo. Pargo can be brilliant, but he tends to be over aggressive at times which results in turnovers and occasionally a lot of foul trouble.
Gonzaga has arrived in the NCAA as one of the elite teams year after year. Head Coach, Mark Few has built a tremendous program tucked away some 280 miles east of Seattle in Spokane, Washington. Spokane is no stranger to great athletes as it was the stomping grounds for John Stockton, Mark Rypien, and a guy named Ryne Sandberg. So the people of Spokane support the Bulldogs even when they drop a game to Portland State! Hey, no harm meant, PSU is a pretty damn good basketball team.
Gonzaga lost in overtime to No. 2 Connecticut Huskies in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, and suffered another tough loss at home to PSU, but they are simply too talented to stay down.
These two teams met in Spokane last New Years Eve (2007) when the Bulldogs held off a late run by Utah to win 61-59. Last year it was the guards who shot lights out for both teams. The Utes Tyler Kepkay scored 16, and GUs Matt Bouldin put up 26. This year may be a battle of big men as the Utes have senior center Luke Nevill, who is averaging 16.9 points per game and grabbing 8.3 rebounds. Meanwhile, Gonzaga has senior center Josh Heytvelt who is averaging 15.4 points per game and pulling down 6.1 boards.
Utah is always difficult at home and they are a disciplined team. Gonzaga is once again searching for identity as they have already started the roller coaster going up and down in the AP Poll. Coach Few keeps a stoic presence on the bench but make no mistake; Few will get results as he is one of the most successful coaches for a reason. The Zags are under a huge spotlight right now and they know that they must step up and play hard for the entire game or they will get beat- just look at the Portland State game-film and you will see a lot of breakdowns and non-hustle situations.
Wilsons Pick: Gonzaga finds their game and takes it to Utah. The Bulldogs win 72-62. Luck to ya.