Gonzaga broke UCLA’s heart in March Madness again with Julian Strawther’s logo 3

The Gonzaga Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins already had a deep and storied rivalry in the men’s NCAA tournament coming into their Sweet 16 matchup in the 2023 bracket on Thursday. The first lasting image of Zags basketball was Adam Morrison falling to the floor in tears after losing to the Bruins in the 2006 Sweet 16. Gonzaga got its revenge in the 2021 Final Four with an even more memorable moment: Jalen Suggs’ near halfcourt buzzer-beater to put the then undefeated Zags into the national title game.

Add the 2023 edition right to the top of the list. Gonzaga beat UCLA, 79-76, thanks to a thrilling game-winning shot in the final seconds that staved off an epic Zags collapse. Now Gonzaga is one win away from its third Final Four in the last five men’s NCAA tournaments.

The Zags led by 10 points with 2:30 left, but UCLA would storm back by forcing turnovers, making shots, and watching Gonzaga miss its free throws. The Bruins took the lead with 13 seconds left when senior point guard Tyger Campbell found freshman shooting guard Amari Bailey for the go-ahead three. Gonzaga called timeout and drew up a play for Strawther. To hear head coach Mark Few tell it after the game, Strawther had a read to get downhill after receiving a high pitch. That wasn’t the one he chose. Instead, Strawther bombed a deep and audacious three that found the bottom of the net.

The confidence it takes to even attempt that shot while down only one point in the final seconds is astronomical. That would be a bad look for most players in college basketball, but Few knew it was a good shot for Strawther. The coach said his team practices that play regularly, and Strawther often takes and makes that shot.

The play was immediately reminiscent of Suggs’ game-winning shot against UCLA in the 2021 Final Four.

In 2021, the score was tied, and the clock was running out. Suggs had no other choice but to attempt a near halfcourt shot. Strawther very easily could have tried to get to the rim or find an open teammate, but it sure seems like he was hunting the deep three the entire time.

The play that Gonzaga ran for Strawther was basically a carbon copy of what Jay Wright once ran for Kris Jenkins when he hit the game-winning shot in the national championship game of the 2016 men’s NCAA tournament.

Strawther hit a very similar game-winning shot for Gonzaga earlier this year:

Drew Timme was the star for Gonzaga most of the night, finishing with 36 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. However, Timme badly missed two free throws late in the game that led to Bailey’s go-ahead three. He said there’s no bigger Strawther fan than himself after the game.

Gonzaga now plays UConn, with the winner going to the Final Four.

The NCAA tournament is just more fun when Gonzaga plays UCLA.

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