A little more than seven months after they squared off in the Final Four, Gonzaga and UCLA will meet again.
And this time they are the top two teams in college basketball.
Second-ranked UCLA (5-0) and top-ranked Gonzaga (5-0) will face each other on Tuesday night in the Good Sam Empire Classic in Las Vegas.
It’s the first game between No. 1 and No. 2 since Michigan State beat Kentucky 69-62 in the Champions Classic to open the 2019-20 season, and the fourth since 2016.
“When you coach at a school like UCLA, I think you gotta try to play games that your players want, your fans want and that your recruits want to see,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Hey, we’re gonna be in these types of games.”
The highly anticipated matchup is a rematch of last year’s national semifinal thriller won at the buzzer by Gonzaga, 93-90 in overtime on Jalen Suggs’ 37-foot 3-pointer. The Bulldogs went on to lose in the title game two nights later to Baylor, ending their perfect season.
“We are going against the top of the top,” said Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren, who is averaging 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. “We’ll see what we’re made of.”
Suggs is gone, but Drew Timme is back. Timme is leading the Bulldogs in scoring at 18.8 points per game while Julian Strawther is averaging 14.8 points per game.
The game will mark the 43rd time that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Associated Press poll will meet in the regular season. It will mark the first time Gonzaga will play in such a matchup.
“It’s important for everybody if you want to make the NCAA Tournament,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “If you want to accrue a high seed, you have to play really, really good teams. I think it’s important for college basketball.”
Another major difference from last April’s game will be playing the game in front of a large crowd, which was not possible with attendance restrictions in place in Indianapolis.
“There’s so many memories of the game,” Cronin said. “Walking out to coach the Final Four in gym shoes was a little weird, to an empty arena, but there’s just so many things.”
The Bruins and the Bulldogs each took care of business in their first games of the Good Sam Empire Classic on Monday night.
UCLA took down winless Bellarmine behind Peyton Watson’s 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting off the bench. Johnny Juzang and David Singleton each had 13 points while Myles Johnson finished with nine points and 11 rebounds.
The Bruins moved the ball well throughout the game, finishing with 23 assists on 33 made field goals. UCLA also held Bellarmine to 3-of-15 shooting from 3-point range.
Juzang leads the Bruins in scoring at 19.8 points per game while guards Jaime Jaquez Jr. (15.6) and Jules Bernard (15.4) round out UCLA’s top three offensive threats.
Gonzaga didn’t have much trouble with Central Michigan on Monday night, defeating the Chippewas, 107-54. Holmgren led the Bulldogs with 19 points. Nolan Hickman totaled 16 points while Strawther had 15. Timme and Rasir Bolton each finished with 11 points as Gonzaga shot 56.8 percent.
–Field Level Media