UCLA vs. Gonzaga has history, giving NCAA tournament its best Sweet 16 matchup
March 22, 2023 Updated Wed., March 22, 2023 at 7:39 p.m.
Tribune News Service
There are two memories that stand out when thinking about Gonzaga and UCLA.
For older college basketball fans, it’s the image of Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison sprawled on the court after the Bruins stole away a Sweet 16 victory in 2006.
In that game, Gonzaga was holding onto a 71-68 lead with 40 seconds left and the ball. UCLA’s Ryan Hollins was fouled pursuing a defensive rebound and proceeded to make two free throws to bring the Bruins within 71-70 with 19 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Jordan Farmar stole the ball from Gonzaga’s JP Batista in the backcourt, passed the ball to Luc Mbah a Moute for a layup to take a 72-71 lead with 8 seconds left before making the winning steal and completing UCLA’s 73-71 comeback victory over the Zags.
“Unbelievable,” CBS broadcaster Gus Johnson yelled, as the camera panned to a crying Morrison. “After being down by 17 (points), heartbreak city!”
Fans that aren’t as “experienced” might not remember that 2006 game so well, but they certainly remember the Final Four game in 2021, ingrained with the images of Jalen Suggs standing on top of a courtside media table yelling in triumph after banking in a near-halfcourt shot as the buzzer sounded to win the game 93-90 in overtime.
“There are onions, and then there are major onions – with a kiss!” CBS color analyst Bill Raftery yelled.
Even Gonzaga coach Mark Few turned to UCLA coach Mick Cronin and threw his hands up in disbelief.
The UCLA (31-5) versus Gonzaga (30-5) matchup has a fun, dramatic history, which makes Thursday’s Sweet 16 matchup between the second-seeded Bruins and third-seeded Bulldogs the NCAA Tournament’s best game of the round when they face off at 6:40 p.m. at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
This week’s game will tip off exactly 17 years to the day since the two met in 2006.
It will be the eighth meeting between the programs, the fourth time in the NCAA Tournament, and the third Sweet 16 matchup. Gonzaga is 5-2 against UCLA in those games, including 2-1 in postseason play.
The last time UCLA and Gonzaga met was Nov. 23, 2021, in Las Vegas in the T-Mobile Arena for an early season showdown, but the Bulldogs dominated in an 83-63 win thanks to the slashing work of Andrew Nembhard, who scored a game-high 24 points.
“Colossal softness,” was the way Cronin described his team that Tuesday night.
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme scored 28 points on 12-of-21 shooting from the floor to lead the Bulldogs to an 84-81 second-round NCAA Tournament victory over TCU on Sunday night.
UCLA and Gonzaga are two of just four teams to have advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Following is a brief look back at previous UCLA-GU matchups:
Gonzaga 83, UCLA 63 (11/23/21): This nationally televised showdown between the top-ranked Bulldogs and No. 2 Bruins was never in doubt, as the Zags led by as many as 23 in the first half. Andrew Nembhard was dominant for GU, with 24 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Gonzaga 93, UCLA 90 (4/3/2021): This Final Four matchup proved a classic, as the Bulldogs held off a late charge in the final minute of overtime, where the Bruins clawed back from five down to tie it at 90-all. Suggs’ 3-pointer just inside the half-court line beat the buzzer and sent top-seeded Gonzaga to the title game against Baylor. Timme finished with 25 points for GU.
UCLA 71, Gonzaga 66 (12/12/2015): Domantas Sabonis’ three-point play extended the Zags’ halftime lead to 37-32 in the opening minutes of the second half in Spokane, but the Bruins outscored GU 24-11 over the next 10 minutes and grabbed a 56-48 lead with 7:44 left. GU pulled within 65-64 with 1:29 left on a Eric McClellan layup, but UCLA answered back-to-back buckets.
Gonzaga 74, UCLA 62 (3/27/2015): The second Sweet 16 matchup between the teams lacked the drama of the first one. Gonzaga’s pulled away from a 35-34 lead early in the second half with a 12-0 run. Przemek Karnowski led the way with 18 points and nine rebounds.
Gonzaga 87, UCLA 74 (12/13/2014): Kyle Wiltjer scored a game-high 24 points, Byron Wesley added 20 and the Zags shot nearly 59% from the floor to win at Pauley Pavilion. Gonzaga rolled to a 38-27 halftime lead and never looked back.
UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71 (3/23/2006): In a game the Zags controlled for 37 minutes, the Bruins scored the final 11 points and ousted a stunned GU team from the NCAAs. JP Batista missed a desperation 15-footer at the buzzer.
Gonzaga 59, UCLA 43 (12/11/1999): In the teams’ first meeting, the still-Cinderella Bulldogs got 17 points and five 3-pointers from Ryan Floyd and held the Bruins to their lowest point total at Pauley Pavilion.
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