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UConn vs. Gonzaga prediction: Bet on the Huskies to punch Final Four ticket

UConn’s depth and versatility will be too much for Drew Timme and the Zags in West Region final

UConn guard Jordan Hawkins scored a game-high 24 points in the Huskies’ 88-65 blowout of Arkansas in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. No. 4 seed UConn is favored over No. 3 seed Gonzaga in Saturday’s West Region final in Las Vegas. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
UConn guard Jordan Hawkins scored a game-high 24 points in the Huskies’ 88-65 blowout of Arkansas in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. No. 4 seed UConn is favored over No. 3 seed Gonzaga in Saturday’s West Region final in Las Vegas. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)Read moreSarah Stier / Getty Images

We made the right call (barely) in backing Gonzaga over UCLA in the West Region Sweet 16 nightcap on Thursday.

Backing Arkansas plus the points against UConn? You could say we were a little off on that one.

While Gonzaga needed to overcome a 13-point halftime deficit — and needed to sink a desperation 3-pointer in the waning seconds — to escape UCLA, the Huskies cruised to a sweat-free 23-point victory over Arkansas.

So how are we betting this intriguing Elite Eight clash in Las Vegas? Let’s just say we learned our lesson Thursday and are siding with the team we picked to come out of this loaded region days before the NCAA Tournament tipped off.

Odds updated as of 5 p.m. ET on March 24.

UConn vs. Gonzaga Prediction

  1. UConn -130, moneyline (at Caesars Sportsbook)

UConn vs. Gonzaga Prediction: Analysis

Both UConn and Gonzaga deserve serious kudos for making it to the final of a region that featured nine squads that were ranked in the top 35 pre-tournament by analytics guru KenPom — including five teams ranked in the top 11.

And, frankly, you could argue that Gonzaga has had a rougher road: The Zags had to overcome TCU (currently No. 24 in KenPom) and UCLA (KenPom No. 4). Meanwhile, the Huskies faced Saint Mary’s (No. 13) and Arkansas (No. 18), avoiding top seed Kansas (No. 9) after the defending national champs were upset in the second round.

Certainly, the final scores indicate that Gonzaga had the more difficult journey, as the Zags held off TCU 84-81 in the Round of 32 before Thursday’s 79-76 last-second win over UCLA.

Conversely, UConn walloped both Saint Mary’s (70-55) and Arkansas (88-65) after also dusting opening-round foe Iona by double digits (87-63).

But that right there is a huge reason why we’re siding with the Huskies in this contest: They’ve had a relatively stress-free tournament to this point, while Gonzaga has had to gut out every win — including an 82-70 first-round victory over No. 14 seed Grand Canyon.

Yes, UConn actually trailed Iona by two points at halftime and needed a deep 3-pointer as time was winding down just to take a one-point halftime lead over Saint Mary’s. But the Huskies took control of both games very early in the second half and coasted home.

Then came Thursday’s wire-to-wire annihilation of Arkansas. UConn raced out to a 34-17 lead, took a 46-29 advantage into the locker room and led by as many as 29 points in the second half.

The Huskies’ thorough domination is in the numbers: They outshot Arkansas 57% to 32% from the field, 45% to 31% from 3-point land, 81% to 74% from the free-throw line and had a 39-25 rebounding edge. Also, four players scored in double figures, led by guard Jordan Hawkins’ 24 points.

It was a much-needed breakthrough game for Hawkins, who was UConn’s leading scorer in the regular season but had tallied just 30 points in the team’s previous three contests.

» READ MORE: We’re on the Markquis Nowell train and riding Kansas State to break a Final Four drought and end FAU’s run

Then again, that also explains why the Huskies are so difficult to beat: Even when their best player is off, they still win — and often win big.

Gonzaga, on the other hand, needs superstar senior Drew Timme to put up big game after big game every time out. So far, Timme has been more than up to the task. He had game highs of 36 points and 13 rebounds against UCLA, and has topped 20 points in all three of the Zags’ March Madness games.

A huge reason for Timme’s consistent success (besides a wealth of experience)? The 6-foot-10 forward is almost always the most skilled and physical player on the court, and a matchup nightmare for opponents.

But on Saturday, Timme will have to deal with a big man who possesses similar skills, UConn’s Adama Sanogo. The 6-foot-9 junior forward has terrorized opponents in this tournament, putting up 28, 24 and 18 points and averaging 9.7 rebounds — all while playing 27 minutes or fewer in each game.

As long as Sanogo continues to stay out of foul trouble — and he’s committed just four in three games — he’s going to wear on Timme, who has to be exhausted after logging 38 minutes against UCLA.

If Timme doesn’t bring his A+ game Saturday — on both ends of the court — there’s a good chance the Huskies will run Gonzaga out of T-Mobile Arena. Because UConn is deep, physical, athletic and doesn’t give its opponents many second chances.

To that latter point: The Huskies are tied for second in the country in rebounding margin at plus-8 and have outrebounded their three March Madness opponents by a combined 112-72 margin.

That said, because Timme is so good and has so much NCAA Tournament experience, we don’t recommend messing around with the point spread in this contest. Instead, play it safe and bet UConn on the moneyline.

UConn vs. Gonzaga Odds (via Caesars Sportsbook):

  1. Point spread: UConn (-2) vs. Gonzaga (+2)

  2. Moneyline: UConn (-130) vs. Gonzaga (+110)

  3. Total: 153.5 points

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

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