December 11, 2015

After having its home nonconference winning streak snapped by one traditional Pac-12 power, No. 20 Gonzaga surely won't be looking past another.

With a victory over the nation's then-No. 1 team on its resumè, UCLA should have the struggling Bulldogs' full attention anyway when they meet Saturday night for the first time since last season's NCAA Tournament.

This rematch of a 2015 regional semifinal appeared somewhat lopsided a month ago, when Gonzaga resided in the top 10 and the Bruins got off to a 3-3 start that included losses to Monmouth and Wake Forest.

UCLA has since turned the corner by winning three straight upon returning from the Maui Invitational, highlighted by a stunning 87-77 home upset of Kentucky on Dec. 3.

Conversely, Gonzaga (6-2) has been largely unimpressive since its third-place finish in last month's Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, sandwiching last Saturday's 68-63 loss to No. 13 Arizona around narrow wins over Washington State and Montana.

After blowing a 10-point halftime lead to the Wildcats for their first nonconference defeat in Spokane since December 2012, the Bulldogs trailed Montana in the final minute before scoring five unanswered points to pull out a 61-58 decision.

''We're very lucky to get out of this with a win,'' coach Mark Few said.

Gonzaga's slump has coincided with Przemek Karnowski's back injury that's expected to sideline the 7-foot-1 center for a fourth consecutive game. While the Bulldogs' defense and rebounding have remained solid, they're averaging a modest 64.3 points while shooting 42.5 percent in the senior's absence.

"He's a huge, huge part of who we are," said Few. "I think these guys are performing admirably without one of their best, most important players out there on the floor."

Gonzaga is still receiving heavy contributions from top scorers Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, but starting guard Kyle Dranginis is 2 of 14 from the field over the three-game stretch and sixth man Silas Melson 0 for 8 in his last two.

Wiltjer had 33 points against Arizona and is averaging 20.6 per game, while Sabonis has 40 rebounds over the past three.

Karnowski also had a major impact in Gonzaga's 74-62 win over the Bruins in March, tallying 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and helping the Bulldogs record a 50-39 rebounding advantage. Gonzaga also dealt UCLA an 87-74 defeat at Pauley Pavilion last December behind Wiltjer's 24 points.

The Bruins (6-3) shot a combined 40.2 percent in those losses, but they've hit their stride offensively of late. They shot an impressive 52.8 percent against Kentucky and had four players with at least 15 points in Sunday's 83-76 win over Long Beach State.

"We can't be a team of excuses; we need to be one of growth," coach Steve Alford said. "And we did grow. We did a good job of valuing the ball in a game that went up and down."

Alford's son, Bryce, leads five Bruins averaging at least 11.7 points per game. The junior guard had a season-high 24 against Long Beach State, while center Thomas Welsh has compiled 36 points and 21 rebounds over the last two. The sophomore recorded 21 points and a career-high 11 rebounds against Kentucky.

UCLA makes its first visit to McCarthey Athletic Center, where the Bulldogs are 44-2 in their last 46 outings and had won 18 straight over nonconference foes prior to the Arizona loss.

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