Another last-second shot from Gonzaga sinks UCLA men’s basketball
Redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell holds his head in his hands. No. 2 seed UCLA men’s basketball blew a 13-point halftime lead to No. 3 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. (Jack Stenzel/Daily Bruin)
|No. 2 seed UCLA||76|
|No. 3 seed Gonzaga||79|
By Jon Christon
March 23, 2023 10:16 p.m.
This post was updated March 23 at 11:55 p.m.
LAS VEGAS — Deja vu is quite the feeling.
Especially when it results in the heartbreak that only March can bring.
No. 2 seed UCLA men’s basketball (32-5, 18-2 Pac-12) lost its second consecutive March Madness thriller to No. 3 seed Gonzaga (31-5, 18-2 WCC) in Las Vegas on Thursday, this time a 79-76 Sweet 16 defeat on the back of a last-second 3-pointer from Bulldog guard Julian Strawther.
“(It) took a 32-foot shot, a great player in Drew Timme, and a really tough whistle to send us home,” said coach Mick Cronin.
UCLA, despite trailing by double digits with just over 2 1/2 minutes left, inexplicably led with just seconds remaining on the clock.
But Gonzaga guards thrive when the going gets tough in the postseason, and Strawther proved to be no different.
Gonzaga guard Hunter Sallis dribbled right at Strawther’s man and stopped, turned left and essentially handed the ball to Strawther, creating a pseudo-screen to give Strawther plenty of room to get a shot off.
Strawther, without hesitation, drilled the shot over the outstretched hand of UCLA freshman guard Dylan Andrews.
“We should have been tighter on Strawther,” Cronin said. “If we were tighter, then he couldn’t have looped behind. We were sagging off – Dylan was off too far.”
The T-Mobile Arena crowd erupted, and soon, Strawther was mobbed by his teammates at center court as the final buzzer sounded. The Bruins, meanwhile, sulked off the floor for the final time this season.
March Sadness at its finest.
“He hit a big shot, and we lost,” said senior guard/forward Jaime Jaquez Jr.
UCLA had a pair of chances after Strawther’s shot. Redshirt senior guard Tyger Campbell pushed the pace immediately after the 3 but was stripped on his way up on a jumper that could have tied the game.
Campbell had an open look on a deep right-wing 3 a possession later. The ball, though, clanked off the rim as the buzzer sounded, and the Bruins had officially taken residence in “Heartbreak City” – just like the Bulldogs did in 2006.
Strawther’s shot comes merely two years after Jalen Suggs’ halfcourt heave game-winner in the 2021 Final Four and 17 years to the day from UCLA’s “Heartbreak City” win over Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.
“That was just an unbelievable basketball game,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Jules (Strawther) hit a big shot, just like his good buddy Jalen a couple of years ago.”
Strawther’s heroics followed what could have been a signature March Madness moment in its own right.
Freshman guard Amari Bailey gave UCLA the lead – its first advantage of the final 12 1/2 minutes – on a left-wing 3 with 14 seconds remaining. It was the biggest shot of Bailey’s short career, punctuating a rapid 14-3 UCLA run in the final minutes.
“That just shows who he is. He’s a gamer,” Jaquez said. “Big-time players shine in moments like this.”
An all but improbable Bruin surge preceded Bailey’s shot. UCLA, which had trailed by as much as 13 earlier in the second half, collapsed midway through the frame.
The Bruins went over 11 minutes without a made field goal, and their double-digit lead quickly turned into an equally large deficit. By the time UCLA finally made a shot from the field – with 1:14 to go – it was losing the second half 36-19.
“We got some really good looks, and we just weren’t able to knock ’em in,” Campbell said.
It was a quick change of face for UCLA, which hung 46 points on Gonzaga in the first half. Shot after shot missed, and hands were on knees as heavy breathing embodied the UCLA sideline. The Bruins looked as if they had run out of gas.
UCLA played against the odds earlier in the game. Freshman forward Adem Bona was out with a sore left shoulder, leaving Cronin and company without many options against Gonzaga’s All-American forward Drew Timme.
The short-handed Bruins held their own in the first half, but Timme had taken over soon after, and the rest of the Bulldogs were streaking, matching UCLA with 46 second-half points. Timme had a game-high 36 points, and Strawther scored 14 of his 16 in the second half alone.
But that wouldn’t be the last stand of the 2022-2023 Bruins.
Not with their season on the line.
Not with the careers of a number of seniors hanging in the balance.
Jaquez ended the field goal drought with an and-one layup, and he quickly followed it up with another seconds later. Campbell and fifth-year guard David Singleton chipped in with multiple trips to the charity stripe, and in a matter of moments, the Bruins had improbably clawed their way back into the game.
Jaquez, in likely his last game with the Bruins, led the way with 29 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, and Campbell followed suit with 14 points and nine assists.
“I told them how proud I was of them because they didn’t flinch,” Cronin said. “I’m happy that they still expected to win, and that we’re still upset that we lost.”
Bailey ended second on the team in scoring with 19 points, and his triple capped off UCLA’s valiant comeback attempt.
But just as March giveth, it taketh away.
Strawther one-upped Bailey and drilled his game-winner, creating a moment that was simultaneously elating for Bulldog fans and crushing for their Bruin counterparts.
Both programs, though, are well aware that moments like that come with the territory.
“One shining moment,” Timme said. “I think that’s the best way to describe it.”