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Gonzaga Basketball

Recap and highlights: Anton Watson carries Gonzaga to foul-filled win over UCLA 69-65 at Maui Invitational

By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review

HONOLULU – No Jalen Suggs, no Julian Strawther, but lots and lots of Anton Watson.

Gonzaga’s fifth-year senior delivered the performance of his career and made certain the final game of the Maui Invitational was memorable for something other than the number of referees’ whistles.

Watson did it all – at both ends of the court – to carry the Zags to a 69-65 victory Wednesday in the fifth-place game at SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center. UCLA (4-2) settled for sixth place.

The 6-foot-8 forward scored 32 points, made 14 of 15 shots, pulled down seven rebounds and added two assists, two steals and one block in 30 minutes. His previous career high was 23 points.

At one point in a team huddle midway through the second half, UCLA coach Mick Cornin offered a loud reminder of the scouting report, screaming at his players, “Watson is right-handed.”

On Gonzaga’s next possession, Watson drove to his right and was fouled by Kenneth Nwuba, the UCLA forward’s fifth foul with 9:38 left to play. After a GU turnover, Watson scored inside. Then, left alone near the top of the key, Watson swished his third 3-pointer and the Zags led by nine.

The Zags and Bruins have met the last three seasons with GU posting a 3-0 record, including two memorable NCAA Tournament games. Jalen Suggs’ 40-footer at the buzzer ended the Zags’ 93-90 overtime win at the 2021 Final Four. Julian Strawther’s 3-pointer in the closing seconds fueled Gonzaga’s 79-76 victory in the Sweet 16 last March.

This one was all Watson, other than the 10 first-half minutes he sat out with foul trouble. He had a lot of company in that department as the teams were called for 51 fouls and 60 free throws. Of the eight Zags that played, seven finished with three fouls and Graham Ike had four.

During a long stretch in the second half, Watson accounted for 11 consecutive Gonzaga field goals to help the Zags hold off the Bruins. The streak ended on Nolan Hickman’s layup – on a nice pass from Watson to put GU in front 66-60 with 1:15 left.

Watson, who entered the game with 990 career points, reached the century mark early in the first half.

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First half

19:03 – GU 2, UCLA 0: Zags work inside and Ike finds Watson for a nice layup to open the scoring. Same starting five GU has gone with so hard this season.

15:53 – GU 7, UCLA 3: Watson gets a big block at the rim and the Zags get possession at the first media timeout. Great start from Watson and Ike down low. Watson has four points, a block and a steal. Ike has three points – all on free throws – and two assists.

11:37 – GU 15, UCLA 9: Watson carrying the Zags at the U12 media timeout. He’s got 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, finding easy looks at the rim.

Watson adds four rebounds. Ike went to the bench with two fouls. UCLA just 2 of 9 from the field, continuing a trend this tournament of teams struggling against the Zags defense in the first half.

7:46 – GU 23, UCLA 14: Watson single-handedly outscoring the Bruins,  but UCLA staying alive at the free throw line. Bruins with nine points at the line, while the Zags are 4 of 10 on free throws.

Watson leads with 15 points and five rebounds.

3:25 – GU 33, UCLA 24: Zags give up a run, but Hickman responds with a 3-pointer at the U4 media timeout. Lots off fouls early, 12 for GU and 11 for UCLA. Hickman and Nembhard with five points apiece for GU.

0:32 – GU 38, UCLA 33: Bruins staying it it from the free throw line. They have scored 16 of their 33 points from the stripe. Zags call a timeout after a turnover from Nembhard. GU has 15 fouls, UCLA has 13.

Halftime

If you tuned in to see a basketball games, you’ll have to settle for a free throw contest. Gonzaga and UCLA combined for 40 foul shots and 29 fouls in the first half. The Bruins capitalized to only trail 38-34.

UCLA made 17 of 23 attempts from the line, while GU made 9 of 17.

The Zags were led by Anton Watson’s 15 points and five rebounds, though he only played 10 minutes with two fouls. GU’s Jun Seok Yeo and Ben Gregg have three fouls apiece. Dusty Stromer, Graham Ike and Braden Huff all have two.

Foul trouble for UCLA: Kenneht Nwuba (three), Adem Bona, Aday Mara, Ilane Fibleuil all with two.

Second half

15:28 – GU 43, UCLA 41: Bruins take the lead but the Zags take it back on a three-point play from Nembhard. More of the same from the first half. Bona with four in the period for UCLA.

11:40 – GU 53, UCLA 42: Watson hits a 3 and UCLA calls a timeout. Fouls aside, this has been a statement from the GU senior. Watson with a game-high 23 points on 10 of 11 shooting.

7:24 – GU 60, UCLA 51: Anton. Watson.

Zags senior hits his third 3-pointer at the U8 media timeout. He has a career high 30 points for GU on 13 of 14 shooting. Unreal performance from the G-Prep grad.

3:54 – GU 64, UCLA 55: Stromer is blocked on a corner 3 at the final media timeout. Watson trying to help close this one out for GU, he throws down a big dunk down the stretch to give him 32 points.

2:20 – GU 64, UCLA 58: Ike called for another foul and the Bruins cut the lead. Zags call for a timeout. GU has 25 fouls, UCLA has 24.

0:56 – GU 66, UCLA 63: Stefanovic hits a 3 to cut it to one possession and the Bruins call a timeout. Zags need a bucket here. Watson hit Hickman for a layup on the previous possession.

0:01 – GU 69, UCLA 65: Stromer hits a couple of free throws and the Zags are going to win this one. GU goes 2-1 in Maui, losing to tournament champion Purdue in the first round.

Pregame

Another chapter in the storied series between Gonzaga and UCLA is hardly a consolation.

Tonight’s game will be in name only when the No. 11 Zags (3-1) tip off against the Bruins (4-1) tonight for 5th/6th place in the Maui Invitational. 

Gonzaga went cold in its loss to Purdue on Monday to open the tournament, but responded nicely, beating Syracuse 76-57 yesterday. The Zags struggled again to manage their turnovers, but when they kept control of the ball scored points at ease inside the paint.

The Bruins opened the tournament with a 71-69 loss to No. 4 Marquette, missing potential go-ahead and tying attempts inside the final 10 seconds. UCLA regrouped with a win over tournament host Chaminade yesterday.

The Bruins will go through reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Adem Bona, who has a similar build to GU’s Graham Ike, and should make for an interesting matchup in the post.

There aren’t many holdovers from last year’s thrilling Sweet 16 game, where Julian Strawther lifted Gonzaga over the Bruins at the buzzer. But if tonight’s game is anything like that one, or Jalen Suggs’ 2021 winner in the Final Four, strap in for a wild ride.

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