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Madness means another big game awaits Zags

Gonzaga faces UConn after epic win over UCLA

By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Basketball Writer
Published: March 24, 2023, 11:24pm
2 Photos
Gonzaga's Drew Timme (2) and Julian Strawther (0) celebrate in the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game against UCLA in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas.
Gonzaga's Drew Timme (2) and Julian Strawther (0) celebrate in the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game against UCLA in the West Regional of the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher) Photo Gallery

LAS VEGAS — Gonzaga pulled off a March miracle against UCLA in Sweet 16, winning an epic game that featured a furious rally and two 3-pointers in the final 13 seconds.

The Zags celebrated on the floor, with their families in the stands and in the locker room.

Then they turned their attention to a physical UConn team playing like it’s capable of winning a national championship.

“It was kind of one of those things like a short memory, because March there’s no time to dwell on the past and try to live in that moment too much,” Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther said Friday. “Tomorrow’s already game day. That’s what we’ve got our eyes set on.”

The Zags were in this position two years ago in the NCAA Tournament. It didn’t go well.

Jalen Suggs had one of the most memorable March Madness moments against UCLA in the 2021 Final Four, hitting a running, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from just inside half-court to send Gonzaga to the national championship game.

Two days later, the Zags got manhandled by Baylor in the title game.

Gonzaga stunned the Bruins again Thursday night, winning 79-76 on Strawther’s 3-pointer with 7.2 seconds left — five seconds after Amari Bailey hit a 3 to put the Bruins up by one.

Just like two years ago, another bruising opponent awaits the Zags in Saturday’s West Region final against UConn.

“I think we just changed our approach and our mindset, so hopefully be a little bit more prepared for the game tomorrow,” Gonzaga’s Anton Watson said.

The Huskies have bullied their way through the bracket, winning their first three games by a combined 62 points.

UConn has heft inside in 6-foot-9, 245-pound Adama Sanogo and potent perimeter scorers in Tristan Newton and Jordan Hawkins.

The Huskies turned what was supposed to be one of the NCAA Tournament’s best games so far into a Sweet 16 blowout, overwhelming Arkansas for an 88-65 win Thursday night.

An easy win, but the Huskies now have to face a team that’s been to the Final Four twice in the previous five tournaments. UConn hasn’t been to the Final Four since winning the 2014 national championship.

“Obviously, they hit the mark across the board — player development, the culture, the winning, Final Fours, putting guys in the NBA,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “They do it with a culture that’s widely respected.”

TEAM MEETING

UConn opened the season with 14 straight wins, climbing to No. 2 in the AP Top 25. When the Huskies went into a rut, losing seven of nine, the players called a meeting to see if they could get headed back in the right direction.

It worked. UConn won seven of its final nine games and has been playing its best basketball of the season in the NCAA Tournament.

“Really, that meeting was just a talk amongst us of stuff we had to do to hold ourselves to a higher standard, the UConn standard,” guard Andre Jackson Jr. said. “It was really just about taking an everyday approach to get better as a team. We all did that, and we made it true.”

A FEW NICKNAMES

Gonzaga coach Mark Few had a not-so-flattering nickname for Drew Timme as a freshman. Three years later, he has come up with a new nickname for the quirky big man.

“He’s been The Union Rep the last two years,” Few said. “He’s always on me about length of practice, length of film sessions, days off, etc., etc., etc. So I guess he’s moved up some, right?”

So has Watson, whom Few used to refer to as Sleepy Floyd, a reference to the former NBA player.

“Sleepy Floyd was because Anton played like he was asleep the first two years,” Few said. “No emotion, so I just threw out Sleepy Floyd. Those guys have no idea how good a player Sleepy Floyd was back in the day. I think (they thought) he was a cartoon character or something.”

ROUGH TRIP

UConn kicked off its stay in Las Vegas by switching hotels because of unsuitable conditions in its first one.

A few hours later, personal items were stolen from the team bus while the Huskies practiced at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. UConn filed a police report and a list of the missing items.

“It hasn’t been that bad,” Hurley said. “We’ve had some minor inconveniences that we’re not even thinking about because we’re so joyful about being in Vegas and playing, having an opportunity to go to the Final Four.”

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