Mark Fox coached against the most recent team before Gonzaga to reach the Final Four with an unbeaten record, so he knows how difficult it might be for this Gonzaga squad to complete a perfect championship team this weekend at the Final.
“Nothing against Gonzaga, but I coached against an undefeated Kentucky team,” said Fox, the second-year Cal coach, referring to the 2014-15 Kentucky team that took a 38-0 record into the national semifinals. “Teams can look really connected and then you run into a buzzsaw of a defensive team and it disrupts everything. I think there’s some great defensive teams in the Final Four.”
The team featured Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker and Willie Cauley-Stein, not to mention Bay Area product Marcus Lee, who wound up finishing his college career at Cal.
The Wildcats twice beat Fox’s Georgia team and they rolled through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, winning by an average margin of 25 points. But Kentucky had eight games that season were settled by single-digit margins, including a 68-66 squeaker against Notre Dame in the Elite 8.
Then the Cats lost 72-64 to a Wisconsin team that devoted all of its energies to defense.
Gonzaga (30-0) has won its past 27 games by double-digit margins — an NCAA record — and leads the nation in scoring.
The Zags crushed USC in the Elite 8 and play in Saturday’s national semifinal against 11th-seeded UCLA, which has won five straight games to reach the Final Four in an unexpected bid for its record 12th NCAA title.
“UCLA is tough. They defend you. They’re efficient on offense,” Fox said. "If they don’t turn it over and they force turnovers and keep the possession count low, they’re going to have a chance to win.
"Gonzaga is really talented. They have offensive weapons at every spot and they play with great tempo. Whoever wins the tempo battle is going to improve their chances.
“Obviously, we’re going to root for our conference and hope the Bruins can advance.”
Just like Kentucky six years ago, Gonzaga has been ranked No. 1 all season.
“They do have a great team,” Fox said. ‘I think they have a balanced team so they’re playing together really well, for sure. I do think Gonzaga has probably the most talented offensive group in the Final Four.”
On the other side of the bracket are teams waiting to stage the first all-Texas matchup in Final Four history: Baylor vs. Houston.
Fox is picking Baylor, the other No. 1 seed that made it to the Final Four. But he expects a fierce battle.
“Baylor’s a good 3-point shooting team, too. Houston, obviously, is a great offensive rebounding team and can be disruptive defensively,” Fox said. “If I had to say who has a little bit of an edge, I’d say probably Baylor. They have a little more size and are little better 3-point shooting team.
“Both of those teams play super, super hard. It could be a real rock fight. I would maybe give the edge to Baylor.”
Cover photo of UCLA celebrating vs. Michigan by Mykal McEldowney, USA Today
Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo