It was the most anticipated game of college basketball’s non-conference calendar, but Gonzaga was miles ahead of the nation’s #2 ranked team.
In the most anticipated non-conference game on the college basketball calendar, a #1 v #2 matchup in a rematch of one of the most exciting games in recent memory, the Gonzaga Bulldogs tossed out all the narratives by handing the UCLA Bruins an emphatic 83-63 loss in Las Vegas.
The buildup to this game featured lots of highlight replays of last April’s Jalen Suggs stunning game winner along with clips of acrobatic tough jumpers converted by Jonny Juzang and Jaime Jaquez. The sequel didn’t feature any of that (ok, maybe a few of those jumpers from those guys—they’re good players!), as the Zags took control of this game from the outset and never gave the Bruins any semblance of hope that it would be a competitive contest.
Gonzaga dominated UCLA with its suffocating defense, forcing the Bruins into misses on 25 of their first 31 shots. That’s not a typo. Coupled with Gonzaga’s customary efficiency on offense, depth, and edge in athleticism and you end up with a scoreline that reached 33-10 at one point in the first half. Even with a scoring drought from the Zags that lasted over three minutes, UCLA only managed to reduce its deficit to a less-than-manageable 20 points at the half thanks to a 26.8% conversion rate from the field.
The Bruins showed signs of life in the second half, if cutting the deficit to 16 points qualifies as such, and to their credit continued to compete even though it would have been very easy for them to pack it in and just chalk up the evening to a tough night at the office. But the gap between the two squads on this night was very real, and competing only gets you so far when the other team is playing just as hard.
So how could a Gonzaga team that lost three starters to the NBA from that Final Four squad put together such a comprehensive victory?
The assumed answer would probably be another dominant performance from National Player of the Year favorite Drew Timme to mirror his 37-point outing against Texas, but the Bruins did a nice job bottling him up to the tune of 7 points on 1-5 shooting from the field in the first half. It was maybe the only thing that UCLA succeeded at in its game plan until he made the requisite adjustments en route to an 18-point evening. No, in true Gonzaga fashion it was balance and unselfishness that did the Bruins in, with each starter finishing the night in double figures led by an exquisite outing from Andrew Nembhard who finished with 24 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals.
Gonzaga’s senior point guard produced a signature performance, handling UCLA’s defensive pressure with aplomb while making the right decisions all night long. It has seemed at times that Nembhard has been the forgotten man with the majority of attention going to Timme and Holmgren, but this was the type of performance that should remind the rest of the country about his outstanding qualities and his importance to everything that Gonzaga does.
Beyond Nembhard, it was the type of performance from Gonzaga that has become common over the last few years, but should never be taken for granted. The Zags have something special going on.