Thursday is the 17-year anniversary of when UCLA put on a dazzling game-ending 11-0 run for an improbable 73-71 victory in the Sweet 16 that left Gonzaga star Adam Morrison face-first on the court, crying in distress and defeat.
The Bulldogs returned the heartbreak less than two years ago when Jalen Suggs drained a buzzer-beater from just inside halfcourt in overtime to give the Bulldogs a miraculous 93-90 victory over the Bruins in Final Four.
More electrifying drama could be in store Thursday night when the second-seeded Bruins (31-5) and third-seeded Bulldogs (30-5) square off in the Sweet 16 in West Region play in Las Vegas.
“You’ve got to put it all on the line,” Gonzaga star Drew Timme said. “You can’t save yourself for the next round because there could be no next round. It’s pedal to the metal every time.”
UCLA has recorded 14 wins in 15 games and is part of the Sweet 16 for the third straight time and sixth in the past 10 NCAA Tournaments. The Bruins defeated UNC Asheville and Northwestern.
“We just try to teach guys how to play winning basketball,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said. “You got to be able to play situational, winning basketball because situations change. You got to play smart.”
Forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. and point guard Tyger Campbell were starters on the UCLA team that lost to the Bulldogs in the Final Four. The duo has a 9-2 record in NCAA Tournament games.
Jaquez is in the lead role this season by averaging 20.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in the two victories. He also is in disbelief that he moved into 12th place on UCLA’s all-time scoring list with 1,773 points, passing legendary Bill Walton (1,767).
“Just to be in a conversation with a guy that’s so great like that, I mean, I’m just blessed,” Jaquez said of Walton. “I’m just blessed to be in this position, blessed to play under such a great coach, blessed to go to this institution.”
Meanwhile, Timme was named as one of four finalists for the Naismith Trophy on Tuesday. The award goes to the top player in the nation.
When Timme scored 28 points in Sunday’s 84-81 win over TCU, he tied a record and became just the seventh player in NCAA Tournament history with nine 20-point outings. And the list is a virtual memory lane of March Madness stars: Bill Bradley (Princeton), Elvin Hayes (Houston), Danny Manning (Kansas) Glen Rice (Michigan), Corliss Williamson (Arkansas) and Richard Hamilton (UConn).
“He shines on any stage, actually,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It’s not like he’s not getting 20-point games when he plays for us regularly. Listen, I think he’s the best player in college basketball. I’ve said that. I think he’s going to go down with the amount of success and the wins and all he’s been able to do.”
Timme, who is averaging 21.1 points per game, led the Zags to their eighth 30-win campaign in the past 11 seasons. Julian Strawther averages 15.3 points and Anton Watson averages with 11.3 points to go with a team-best 66 steals.
Jaquez scored 24 points in Saturday’s 68-63 victory over Northwestern. He leads UCLA in scoring (17.5) and rebounding (8.1), while Campbell averages 13.4 points and a team-leading 4.9 points.
The Bruins recently lost defensive standout Jaylen Clark (Achilles) for the season, while the status of fellow guard David Singleton (ankle) is unclear after he was injured in the final minute against TCU.
Gonzaga is 5-2 all-time against UCLA, including a convincing 83-63 in Las Vegas on Nov. 23, 2021.
The winner faces either fourth-seeded UConn or eighth-seeded Arkansas in Saturday’s West Region final.
–Field Level Media