Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga’s 7-foot freshman, blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound, took the ball down the length of the pitch, dribbled behind his back to lose his defender and dove to two hands.
“It wasn’t a shock,” Gonzaga forward Drew Timme said after the game. “This is what we expect of him and what he expects of himself. It’s just Chet. He is one of a kind. “
It was just a basket, and it happened early in the second half, but it was emblematic of No.1’s 83-63 loss. 1 Gonzague gave No. 2 UCLA at a meeting of the nation’s top two college basketball teams on Tuesday night.
It also offered a clear glimpse of the early season gap between top Zags (7-0) and UCLA (5-2) just months after playing a much closer game in the Final Four.
For Gonzaga, beating UCLA was a step towards his goal of being more UCLA-like. The men’s basketball program has won 11 NCAA championships during its rich history, Gonzaga Zero. The Bulldogs want a bit of what the Bruins have: championship banners in the rafters.
When the teams last met in April, it was in the Final Four with a spot for the domestic championship game on the line.
In what turned out to be the most gripping game of the NCAA tournament, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs relied on a 40-foot 3-pointer to beat the buzzer in overtime and give the Bulldogs a thrilling 3-point victory. Two nights later, Gonzaga was barred from becoming the first team since Indiana in 1976 to complete an unbeaten season with an NCAA Championship when they lost to Baylor by 16 points in the title game.
When Gonzaga and UCLA met again on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the stakes weren’t as high and the game wasn’t so close.
Four Bulldogs scored in double digits, including senior point guard Andrew Nembhard (24 points) and freshman star Holmgren (15 points, six rebounds and four blocks). The latter, still only 19 years old, showed the skills that brought some 25 NBA scouts to the game.
The Boy Scouts were thinking about next summer’s draft. Holmgren insisted he wasn’t looking that far.
“I am worried about our team and how we can improve each day, so that in March we are the best we can be,” Holmgren told ESPN. “That’s pretty much what I’m focusing on.”
Gonzaga entered the game second in Division I with 93.2 points per game and quickly left UCLA behind taking a 16-6, 24-8 and 33-10 lead en route to a 45-25 lead. at halftime. The Bulldogs shredded the Bruins in transition, outscoring them 18-5 on counterattack points. UCLA star Johnny Juzang, the NCAA tournament’s top scorer, shot 5 of 11 for 11 points as Gonzaga kept UCLA 35 percent on shots.
Gonzaga may never have been considered an original blue-blooded show like UCLA, but they’re a far cry from the Cinderella outfit who reached her first final eight in 1999.
Now there is a goal, and anything short will be considered a failure.
“We’re taking it all this year – just be prepared,” Timme, the team’s top player and National Player of the Year contender, told fans at Gonzaga’s Midnight Madness event.
Even after losing three players, including Suggs, to the NBA, Gonzaga is the 6-1 betting favorite to win the title in April, according to Caesars Sportsbook. UCLA is tied for second at 12-1.
It was the third time in the history of the Associated Press Top 25 poll that the No. 1 and 2 men’s and women’s teams have faced each other on consecutive days. Monday, no. South Carolina’s 1 beat No. 2 UConn, 73-57, Bahamas, and the Huskies slipped to No. 3 nationally with loss.
Under coach Mark Few, Gonzaga has reached two of the last four league games, also losing to North Carolina in 2017. They have been in the top three in the AP standings for 34 straight weeks since 31 December. December. 16, 2019 and have won over 30 games five years in a row.
The Bulldogs started the season without Few, who served a three-game suspension spanning the preseason and regular season after pleading guilty to an under the influence driving offense in Idaho in September. But now Gonzaga is almost a lock to extend their streak of 21 straight NCAA tournaments.
Gonzaga’s previous successes are due to a constant flow of NBA players, including many international hopefuls: Rui Hachimura (Japan), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and Kelly Olynyk (Canada).
But the Zags are also successful in recruiting unique American prospects. Suggs, a native of Minneapolis, was the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft by the Orlando Magic, and slim Holmgren, who was number one. A rookie in his class and former Suggs high school and AAU teammate, is in the top two picks this season.
By scheduling top non-conference opponents like UCLA and No. 5 Duke, Gonzaga not only made up for his weak championship schedule, but also brought in the nation’s top rookies.
“The challenge for Gonzaga has been to break through with the top rated kids in the United States,” said Eric Bossi, national director of recruiting for 247 Sports. “A big key has been to come out and play these big games because the big guys want to make sure they can get that national exposure.”
Gonzaga had already made a big statement this season with an 86-74 victory over No. 5 Texas on November 13. Now their last big week continues on Friday, when they face Duke in Las Vegas in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final season.