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Gonzaga Basketball

Series history indicates Gonzaga-UCLA is must-see event

UCLA guard Sebastian Mack drives to the basket against Marquette during the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu.  (Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire)

HONOLULU – Warning: Gonzaga-UCLA games may contain high-level basketball, beyond-belief plot turns and made-for-Hollywood endings.

Watching in person or on TV is advised.

Gonzaga and UCLA can’t seem to get through a season any more without running into each other. The West Coast powers will tangle again, this time to determine fifth and sixth places at the Maui Invitational at 9 p.m. Wednesday at SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center.

If it’s anything like their past two NCAA Tournament contests, it’ll be an instant classic. Last March, Julian Strawther hit a monster 3-pointer in the closing seconds in his hometown of Las Vegas to propel GU to a thrilling 79-76 Sweet 16 win.

Jalen Suggs banked home a 40-footer at the buzzer to end Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime victory at the 2021 Final Four. The top-ranked Zags pounded No. 2 UCLA 83-63 in Las Vegas during the 2022 regular season behind Andrew Nembhard’s 24 points and six assists.

Going further back, the Bruins reeled off the game’s final 11 points to overtake the Zags 73-71 in the 2006 NCAA Tournament, leaving Adam Morrison in tears on the court after the buzzer.

There’s a few more unknowns for both teams as they collide for the fourth consecutive season.

Strawther is earning paychecks from the Denver Nuggets and Drew Timme is in the G League. Gonzaga is blending several new faces, including transfers Graham Ike and Ryan Nembhard, Andrew’s younger brother, with holdovers Anton Watson, Nolan Hickman, Ben Gregg and redshirt freshman Braden Huff.

UCLA greats Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell have moved on to the pros. The Bruins’ roster includes seven freshmen, but they’re talented and off to a promising start.

UCLA (4-1) nearly upset No. 4 Marquette on Monday, but came up short 71-69. No. 11 Gonzaga (3-1) led No. 2 Purdue by five at halftime, but the Boilermakers rallied for a 73-63 victory.

Both responded Tuesday with easy wins. UCLA thumped Division II Chaminade 76-48 while Gonzaga handled Syracuse 76-57.

So what’s in store this time around?

“It would shock me if wasn’t the same competitive game,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said. “I’d be disappointed if we didn’t compete. I’d be shocked if they didn’t.”

Freshman guard Sebastian Mack, who led the Bruins with 16 points vs. Chaminade, is well aware of recent GU-UCLA meetings, even if he wasn’t wearing a Bruins uniform yet.

“I watched those games a lot, those were some big, big games,” Mack said. “But it starts with us, as a team, listening to coach’s game plan and going from there. That’s all we’re worried about.”

Cronin had high praise for Mark Few’s program.

“To me, what coach Few’s done, the consistency is unbelievable,” Cronin said. “Unbelievable. Because I know how hard it is to be good every year.”

The two talk on occasion in the offseason on everything from scheduling to the state of college hoops.

“We’re trying to figure out different things, we put that tournament in Vegas together (two years ago),” Cronin said. “We’re trying to work on another one.”