No again. No again. No again.
Two years later, another profound daring from Gonzaga.
Two years later, another desperate look from UCLA.
Two years later, another dagger.
This can’t keep happening, right? Gonzaga can’t keep beating UCLA in the dying seconds of an NCAA tournament with a basket out of nowhere, can he?
The unimaginable became real. The unthinkable became the incredible. The worst kind of UCLA history just repeated itself as hell.
With six seconds remaining in their Sweet 16 bout Thursday at T-Mobile Arena, moments after the Bruins rallied from a second-half collapse to take a one-point lead, Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther hit a jumper from 32 feet from the top of the key to steal an incredible victory, quell a rowdy crowd, and stir up the saddest memories.
Dancing Zags. wrinkled bruins. The season is over. So.
On the brink of victory against their most bullying rivals, UCLA had suffered a 79-76 loss to end their real national title hopes with a heartbreak replay.
“He hit a big shot,” said a pale and tired Jaime Jáquez Jr. “And we lost.”
Bruins fans have heard this before.
Two years ago, in the last second of overtime in the national semifinals, the Zags’ Jalen Suggs hit a 40-foot shot to do the exact same thing, and how incredibly bizarre and unimaginable is that?
Although, two years ago, UCLA was a major underdog and the overwhelming defeat was the start of a three-year journey back to national prominence.
Thursday was different. For Jaquez’s senior trio of Tyger Campbell and David Singleton, it was not an exciting start, but rather the unpleasant end of the road.
These Bruins were favored. These Bruins had taken a 13-point lead at halftime. These Bruins had taken a one-point lead six seconds before Strawther’s shot on a 3-pointer by freshman Amari Bailey.
Unlike two years ago, by being outscored by 16 points in the second half, the Bruins blew this game.
Their fight, so powerful for so long, suddenly vanished.
Their teamwork, so fluid for so many seasons, was suddenly broken.
Their experience, so important to this veteran team ostensibly heading to the Final Four, suddenly left them.
After a brilliant run to the brink of halftime, UCLA stumbled, wobbled and ultimately collapsed in a loss that ended with Strawther’s bombshell but actually happened much earlier.
A game seemingly in control plunged into the darkest ditches in the final 20 minutes with the Bruins having no idea how to save themselves. A gleaming endeavor turned into a smoking ruin filled with bricks, poor defense, and regrets.
They couldn’t make a shot, missing 11 straight at one point in the second half, going 11 minutes, 16 seconds without a field goal.
“We had some really good sets… we got some really good looks… we just couldn’t touch them,” Campbell said.
UCLA couldn’t stop veteran Gonzaga center Drew Timme as he dominated them with 36 points and 13 rebounds.
Said Timme: “We are warriors.”
Jáquez said: “We did everything possible to stop him, we didn’t succeed.”
The Bruins stopped sharing the ball and fired wild shots on rushed possessions. They stopped fighting for second chances and submitted to the equally tough and veteran Zags.
“A lot of open shots didn’t miss … wide open shots,” said coach Mick Cronin, who also complained about the officiating. “We have a very hard whistle.”
Perhaps the wounds finally caught up with them.
Their best defensive player was riding around on a scooter. The best big one of him was sitting on the bench in street clothes. They were counted when they lost Jaylen Clark for the season and they were counted even more when they lost Adem Bona for parts of this tournament and guess what? Maybe the experts were right.
Bona would have protected Timme. And Clark, not some wandering freshman Dylan Andrews, would have defended Strawther stronger before that winner.
But maybe it was more than the injuries. Perhaps Jáquez and Campbell finally got tired of carrying the heavier load, as they shot a combined 17 of 41 from the field. Notably, Campbell and Singleton didn’t hit baskets in the second half.
Gonzaga was feared as a UCLA blowout powerhouse, with a nation-leading 11 straight wins and the kind of veteran talent that would severely test UCLA’s resolve.
Turns out, that’s exactly what happened.
The Bruins finished the first half with a 46-33 lead and a 9-1 lead in the turnover battle with an incredible seven steals.
But Gonzaga fought back in the second half, riding Timme and Malachi Smith, winning the battle from below, leveling at 59, all at mid-half.
UCLA was suddenly missing out on everything. Gonzaga was suddenly grabbing everything.
Smith hit a floater that gave Gonzaga a 61-59 lead with 8:52 remaining, and suddenly the chants of “UCLA” from a building-dominating Bruins crowd were replaced by “Go Zags!” .
The battle raged through those final eight minutes, Gonzaga taking a 10-point lead before Jaquez repeatedly drove and scored and brought UCLA back. Almost. Six seconds left.
All that was left was for a Gonzaga guard to drop a miracle from the depths and throw UCLA into the depths.