28.9 C
Saturday, June 10, 2023
HomeNewsElation turns to heartbreak as UCLA loses to Gonzaga again in the...

Elation turns to heartbreak as UCLA loses to Gonzaga again in the NCAA tournament


From being on top of the college basketball world to deflating, momentarily back on top only to be heartbroken once more.

There couldn’t have been a bigger turnaround of emotions than UCLA experienced in the span of a few breathless minutes Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena. The fact that he was coming against a more irritating antagonist compounded the agony.

The severely shorthanded Bruins lost a 13-point lead to gonzaga at the start of the second half of the NCAA tournament West Region semifinal, falling behind by 10 with just 2 minutes and 40 seconds remaining. They came back, going ahead by one on a fearless three-pointer from Amari Bailey with 14 seconds left.

All of that, only to be undone by another dagger shot to the heart.

Two years after Jalen Suggs, there was Julian Strawther.

Following his teammates, Strawther received a pass from Hunter Sallis and buried a 32-foot shot with six seconds remaining to bring third-seeded Gonzaga to a 79-76 win over the second-seeded Bruins.

Amid the silent devastation of the UCLA locker room, all the Bruins sat at their lockers with blank stares to go along with the game jerseys they didn’t want to take off half an hour after the game ended.

“It’s pretty hard to come back like this,” UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell said of not being able to complete the comeback in what could have been his last college game. “Yeah.”

UCLA (31-6) had two final chances to salvage its season. He also couldn’t convert.

With his team down by two points, Campbell was stripped of the ball for a rare turnover and the Bruins fouled Strawther, who missed the first free throw before converting the second with three seconds remaining. The Bruins’ inbound pass went to big man Kenneth Nwuba at half court, where he threw a pass to Campbell for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that was off the side of the rim.

For the second time in three years, the Bruins’ season ended in cruelest fashion against the same opponent. For a tantalizing moment, it had seemed like they might have persevered through it all. That late 10-point deficit quickly disappeared thanks to a 14-3 run that ended with three from Bailey.

“All I was thinking was, stop it,” Bailey said. “I mean, that’s what got us back into the game.”

Gonzaga called time out. The Bruins realized they had accomplished nothing.

“I mean, there are 12 seconds left on the clock,” UCLA senior forward Jaime Jaquez Jr. said after regaining his form in the final minutes and finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds. “This is March. Anything can really happen.”

And he did. UCLA coach Mick Cronin lamented that his defenders beat Strawther on his last shot after playing him strictly throughout the game. Taking a deep breath, Gonzaga (31-5) will face fourth-seeded Connecticut in the regional final on Saturday after the Huskies defeated Arkansas 23 in the previous semifinal.

Gonzaga guard Malachi Smith grabs a rebound on a missed shot by UCLA guard Tyger Campbell up front late in the game.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Gonzaga guard Julian Strawther scores the winning basket with a three-pointer.

Gonzaga guard Julian Strawther scores the game-winning basket with a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of a 79-76 win over UCLA in the Sweet 16.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

What started out so well could not have ended worse for UCLA. Prior to their late attack, the Bruins missed 11 consecutive field goals in a span of 11 minutes. Campbell and guard David Singleton combined to miss all nine of their shots in the second half.

By the time Jáquez made a layup and was fouled with 1:14 to play, his team was down 72-66 and in desperate mode.

“Coach told us we had to score on every possession or the game would be over,” Singleton said, “so we did that.”

The Bruins were outshot, 47.2% to 30%, in the second half while allowing 14 offensive rebounds and 18 second-chance points. Gonzaga’s Drew Timme He was a bulldozer around the basket, finishing with 36 points and 13 rebounds.

Jáquez’s great night was complemented by Bailey (19 points) and Campbell (14 points, nine assists). It was not enough for a team that was facing some kind of deficit before the start of the game. His team no longer had top defender Jaylen Clark because of a leg injury, and Cronin also didn’t play rookie center Adem Bona after he aggravated his shoulder injury against Northwestern in the second round. Substitutes Nwuba and Mac Etienne struggled to defend Timme amid a series of fakes and dropped steps that led to easy baskets.

Early in the game, it looked like the Bruins might end their Gonzaga hex, as the Zags prevailed in the last two NCAA tournament meetings between the teams, on top of a 20-point loss here last season. Cronin had shielded himself from the memory of Suggs earlier this week when he watched the 2021 Final Four loss again, pressing a timeout before Suggs’ 40-foot shot went off the backboard and through the net.

In a huge surprise, the teams played out a hectic first half and the pace favored UCLA. That’s because the Bruins were making the most of the run, their nine forced turnovers leading to 15 points.

Campbell waved both arms in excitement after missing a jumper in the waning seconds of the first half, a nod to his team’s near-perfect play. The score told the story: UCLA 46, Gonzaga 33.

The lead didn’t hold, Gonzaga found more March magic. For the Bruins, there was only more heartbreak to come against the team that has delivered so much this time of year.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

Latest stories