LAS VEGAS — This time it wasn’t the crazy make, it was all the misses.
Jump hooks, baseline jumpers, 3-pointers, point-blank layups—nothing was falling for UCLA early in a Final Four rematch with Gonzaga that quickly turned into a massive mismatch between the nation’s No. 1 and 2 teams.
The top-ranked Bulldogs disrupted defensively with their size and the second-ranked Bruins compounded their woes by missing shots that were both contested and open. At one point in the first half inside T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night, UCLA had made three of 19 shots (15.8%). The Bruins made only one of nine three-pointers in the opening half. They trailed by as many as 23 points.
UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who had foreshadowed this sort of thing the previous day by saying his team wasn’t ready for this early season showdown, tried to reverse his team’s fortunes. He changed his lineups. He called three timeouts in the first 11 and a half minutes.
Seven months after a classic national semifinal that ended with Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs pumping his arms atop a courtside table after banking in a 40-footer at the overtime buzzer, there was no late drama during the Bulldogs’ 83-63 runaway victory.
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme was celebrating after the halftime buzzer, raising his arms in triumph on the way off the court with his team holding a 45-25 advantage. UCLA was shooting 26.8% to that point and 11.1% from beyond the arc.
It never got much better. Even some spirited play from Jaime Jaquez Jr. (19 points) was unable to save the Bruins (5-1) from their early doldrums as they never drew closer than within 16 points of the Bulldogs (6-0) in the second half. UCLA finished the game shooting 34.8% and 16.7% from long range while allowing Gonzaga to shoot 56%. Johnny Juzang and Tyger Campbell added 11 points each for the Bruins.
More was at stake for UCLA than possible revenge and some early season swagger. The top seed in the NCAA tournament’s West Region could have very well been on the line, with a travel-friendly San Diego-San Francisco route to the Final Four in New Orleans for the Bruins.
The big question entering the game was how UCLA would counter Gonzaga’s front line of Timme and 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren while missing sidelined forward Cody Riley. The Bruins started the game with center Myles Johnson on Timme and Jaquez on Holmgren, the latter matchup going in UCLA’s favor early when Jaquez stripped the ball from his counterpart for a steal.
But Holmgren repeatedly hurt the Bruins on both ends of the court. He sank a three-pointer and was even more effective defensively, using his long arm to contest a Jaquez drive that missed and stepping over to block a shot by Kenneth Nwuba. Holmgren’s most impressive sequence came early in the second half, when he blocked a Johnson shot before using a behind-the-back dribble to blow past him for a two-handed dunk.
Holmgren finished with 15 points, six rebounds and four blocks as one of four Gonzaga players to reach double figures in scoring. Andrew Nembhard led the Bulldogs with 24 points, making nine of 13 shots.
The Bruins entered the game in disarray beyond being without Riley and fellow forward Mac Etienne, who were both sidelined by knee injuries.
Cronin had called his team’s narrow victory over Bellarmine the previous night a loss, questioning the Bruins’ attitude, hustle, effort and execution. Cronin had benched starters Juzang and Jules Bernard to start the second half in favor of Peyton Watson and David Singleton because he said the latter two players were more deserving.
“First of all, I’ve got to get the starters’ minds right, we’ve got to get humble and we’ve got to worry about toughness and defense and execution on offense,” said Cronin, adding that his players needed to do some soul-searching or they would be "cruising for a serious hurt” against Gonzaga.
The Bulldogs stirred some painful reminders about a half hour before tipoff when Timme sank a halfcourt shot in warmups and sprinted into the locker room to cheers from Gonzaga fans and groans from their Bruins counterparts.
There was a lot more agony to come.