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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Julian Strawther’s clutch 3 ranks among Gonzaga’s brightest March Madness moments

March 24, 2023 Updated Fri., March 24, 2023 at 7:29 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther and UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba watch as one of Strawther’s earlier shots arcs toward the basket in the second half.  (By Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther and UCLA forward Kenneth Nwuba watch as one of Strawther’s earlier shots arcs toward the basket in the second half. (By Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

LAS VEGAS – Julian Strawther already had a couple of strong candidates for biggest shots of Gonzaga’s season.

He submitted another near the end of a roller-coaster battle against UCLA that immediately joined the pantheon of biggest shots in program history. Strawther’s deep 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds remaining lifted the Zags past the Bruins 79-76 Thursday and into the Elite Eight.

“Jules hit a big shot,” coach Mark Few said, “just like his good buddy Jalen (Suggs) a couple of years ago.”

Few was referring to Suggs banking in a 40-footer at the buzzer in Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime win against the Bruins in the 2021 Final Four. The list of Gonzaga’s biggest March Madness baskets now includes three monster 3s – by Strawther, Suggs and Jordan Mathews, whose wing 3-pointer spurred GU past West Virginia in the 2017 Sweet 16.

Of course, no list would be complete without Casey Calvary’s tip-in against Florida that sent the Zags to the 1999 Elite Eight and Demetri “Meech” Goodson’s runner at the buzzer to edge Western Kentucky in the second round in 2009.

Suggs retweeted an ESPN tweet with side-by-side photos of his shot and Strawther’s with the caption: “Twin twin fr (for real) !!!!”

Strawther had to put his phone in a timeout after he was flooded with text messages and calls, but not before Suggs caught up with him in the locker room.

“He called as soon as the game ended,” Strawther said. “He was just super excited. He was just saying it’s like déjà vu. I (eventually) had to just turn my phone off and put it across the room. It was overwhelming.”

Strawther’s clutch shot was reminiscent of his pull-up 3-pointer in the closing seconds against BYU in Provo, Utah. He also nailed a pair of late 3s as Gonzaga edged Xavier at the PK85 in Portland.

Strawther took a feed from Hunter Sallis while defender Dylan Andrews went under Sallis, allowing Strawther just enough space to set his feet from the edge of the March Madness logo.

“We should have been tighter on Strawther,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “We were the whole game. We just weren’t on that play. If we were tighter, then he couldn’t have looped behind. We were sagging off – Dylan was off too far. That’s the answer to that. And that was our game plan against him all night because he’s made those shots.”

Shortly before the start of the second half, Drew Timme let Strawther know, despite a rough first half, the ball was coming his way.

“I could tell he was a little down on himself,” Timme said. “It’s a lot of pressure playing in your hometown. I was like, ‘Bro, we have to have you. I don’t care what you shoot, I’m going to throw you the ball, you’re going to have to shoot it.’ That’s how much confidence I have in him as a player.”

Strawther and Suggs were part of Gonzaga’s 2020 recruiting class. Strawther’s winner was from roughly 10 feet closer than Suggs’ shot, but it had added pressure with Gonzaga trailing by one. Suggs broke a 90-90 tie with his long 3.

“I’m just so proud of the guys for how we responded,” Strawther said. “It’s easy to fall and fold when things aren’t going right. But every time we seem to just make a run or make a push or someone steps up. It’s just huge. Not too many teams can say they’ve been through adversity that we’ve been through this year and been able to be resilient.”

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