No. 1 Gonzaga shows national championship potential in impressive demolition of No. 2 UCLA
It was supposed to be a rematch of epic proportions. A West Coast-flavored No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown.
Just 234 days since Jalen Suggs' buzzer-beater helped Gonzaga escape UCLA in one of the best Final Four games of all-time, Tuesday night's encore proved to be a major dud.
Instead, fans were treated to a complete demolition of UCLA that revealed one emphatic takeaway: The 2022 national championship will be Gonzaga's to lose – again.
The Bulldogs (6-0) delivered a pulverizing knockout punch early on in Las Vegas and the Bruins (5-1) never recovered, falling behind 45-25 at halftime before ultimately falling 83-63.
Much of the 'Zags' offensive flurry came as a result of hot shooting and instant fast-break offense fueled off a stymying defense. Drew Timme (18 points on the night) played his part as the national player of the year favorite. But it was freshman 7-footer Chet Holmgren (15 points, six rebounds), the projected No. 1 NBA draft pick, who proved to be the tone-setter in this showdown. His defense (four blocked shots) drove Gonzaga's fast-paced transition offense that put UCLA away early on.
"He's not just a diaper dandy, he's a diaper dandy deluxe," legendary announcer Dick Vitale, who returned to the broadcast booth amid his battle with cancer, said.
After a historic matchup between these two squads last April, in which each team went blow-for-blow before the decisive buzzer-beater, this game saw Gonzaga outshoot UCLA 56% to 34.8%. The Bruins couldn't catch any fire, finishing 2-for-12 from 3-point range. Jaime Jaquez Jr. (19 points) was the only player to really show any offensive life for the Bruins.
Gonzaga, set to play No. 6 Duke in Las Vegas on Friday, gets a lot of hype for its offense – ranked No. 1 in KenPom – but it's the 'Zags' defense that made the biggest statement Tuesday night. Timme and Holmgren in the paint make for a tantalizing frontcourt.
Many of the pre-game storylines in this clash didn't pan out. Instead of the Bruins having an edge with three All-American-caliber guards, it was Gonzaga starting point guard Andrew Nembhard (24 points) that looked like the best guard on the basketball court. And a UCLA team that has its entire nucleus back from last season was supposed to have an edge to leapfrog the 'Zags as the best team in the country. Instead, it was coach Mark Few's remodeled roster – fueled by Holmgren – that looked the part of a national title contender.
Gonzaga lost three starters to the NBA from last season's 31-1 national runner-up team that nearly finished undefeated. Few and the 'Zags are still chasing their first national title. With the way this team played against UCLA on Tuesday and then-No. 5 Texas on Nov. 13 (an 86-74 win), it's looking like another unbeaten-season narrative could soon start to take shape.
But unlike last year when eventual champion Baylor was a viable contender to hand Gonzaga its eventual first loss, the No. 2 team this year isn't even close. At least it's not here in November.