Gonzaga displays dominance with rout
Chet Holmgren, the 7-foot Gonzaga freshman, blocked a shot, grabbed the rebound, took the ball the length of the court, dribbled around his back to lose his defender and dunked with two hands.
“This was not a shock,” Gonzaga forward Drew Timme said after the game. “It’s what we expect of him and what he expects from himself. It’s just Chet. He’s one of a kind.”
It was only one basket, and it came early in the second half, but it was emblematic of the 83-63 thrashing that No. 1 Gonzaga gave No. 2 UCLA in a meeting of the nation’s two best men’s college basketball teams Tuesday night.
It also offered a clear glimpse of the early season gap between the top-ranked Zags (7-0) and UCLA (5-1) only months after they played a much closer game at the Final Four.
For Gonzaga, beating UCLA was a step toward its goal of being more like UCLA, a storied program that has 11 NCAA titles to Gonzaga’s zero. The Bulldogs want some of what the Bruins have: championship banners in the rafters.
When the teams last met in April, it was in the Final Four with a spot in the national championship game on the line.
In what turned out to be the game of the NCAA Tournament, Jalen Suggs of Gonzaga banked in a three-pointer from 40 feet to beat the buzzer in overtime and give the Bulldogs a thrilling three-point victory. But two nights later, Gonzaga was stopped short of becoming the first team since Indiana in 1976 to complete an undefeated season with an NCAA championship, losing to Baylor by 16 in the title game.
When Gonzaga and UCLA met again Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, the stakes weren’t as high, and the game wasn’t nearly as close.
Four Bulldogs scored in double figures, including senior point guard Andrew Nembhard (24 points) and star freshman Holmgren (15 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks). The latter, still only 19, flashed the skill set that brought some 25 NBA scouts to the game.
Gonzaga may never be considered an original blue blood program like UCLA, but the Bulldogs are a long way from the Cinderella outfit that reached their first final eight in 1999.
Now there is one goal, and anything short will be considered failure.
“We’re taking it all this year: Just be ready,” Timme, the team’s top player and a national player of the year candidate, told fans at Gonzaga’s Midnight Madness event.
Gonzaga’s previous successes came thanks to a steady stream of future NBA players, many of them international prospects: Rui Hachimura (Japan), Domantas Sabonis (Lithuania) and Kelly Olynyk (Canada).
But the Zags are successfully recruiting one-and-done American prospects now, too. Suggs, a native of Minneapolis, was the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft by the Orlando Magic, and the rail-thin Holmgren, who was the No. 1 recruit in his class and Suggs’ former high school and AAU teammate, is a projected top-two pick this season.
By scheduling high-profile nonconference opponents like UCLA and No. 5 Duke, Gonzaga has not only compensated for its weak conference schedule but also appealed to the nation’s top recruits.
“The challenge for Gonzaga has been to break through with high-rated kids from the States,” said Eric Bossi, the national recruiting director for 247 Sports. “A big key has been going out and playing these big games, because big-time players want to make sure that they’re going to be able to get that national exposure.”