No. 1 Zags widen gap with rout of No. 2 UCLA

LAS VEGAS — After his team’s 83-63 win over UCLA on Tuesday night at T-Mobile Arena, Gonzaga‘s Drew Timme said the Bulldogs had not sent a message with their dominant victory to anyone outside their locker room.

“I would just say we proved to ourselves that we can live up to the Zags standard when we really lock in and play defense together,” he said. “We don’t go out to prove stuff to people. We prove stuff to ourselves. And we did a good job today.”

In the matchup between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA, the Bulldogs started with a blazing first half that ended with Gonzaga leading by 20, a margin they sustained throughout the second half. College basketball already has experienced its share of volatility early this season. But Gonzaga took a step toward widening the gap between itself and the field as it prepares for its matchup against Duke on Friday.

In April, Gonzaga and UCLA staged one of the greatest Final Four games in college basketball history, one that was decided on a Jalen Suggs buzzer-beater in overtime that will go down as an iconic moment.

Tuesday’s game was never that close or uncertain. It was just a fantastic display of Gonzaga’s potential.

Gonzaga made 57.7% of its shots in the first half and led 45-25 at the break. The Bruins, who scored 90 points in their overtime loss to Gonzaga in Indianapolis, missed 25 of their first 31 shots on Tuesday. The Bruins couldn’t hit the 3-pointers (2-for-12) Gonzaga was willing to surrender, and they couldn’t find any room inside the arc as they sought other ways to score. Gonzaga had 18 fast-break points to UCLA’s five.

Along with the Bulldogs’ defensive pressure, the trio of Timme, Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard had a significant impact on the game. Timme finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Holmgren (15 points, four blocks) was efficient on both sides of the floor, as he altered shots and challenged UCLA at the rim. Nembhard (24 points) was, however, the catalyst for the victory.

“It was just a great team win,” Timme said. “That’s the beauty of our system: Anybody can step up on any given night. And this team is so unselfish.”

After his team’s win over Central Michigan on Monday, Gonzaga coach Mark Few had said this group will gain more experience over time as it continues to grow.

“We’re new, and we’re learning on the fly,” he said.

Few also said the UCLA game was an example of an early showcase that can help the sport.

“I think it’s something that all of us, we’ve got to collectively as coaches try to do,” he said. “I think, you know, instead of waiting around for all the attention to be focused on all of us in March, I think there is a golden opportunity here to really focus on the entire sport as we get going.”

After Tuesday’s game, Bruins coach Mick Cronin was clearly frustrated by his team’s struggles. He acknowledged that the absence of injured forward Cody Riley — who had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the Final Four matchup against Gonzaga in April — has affected his squad. Cronin also said the Bruins have to get tougher to achieve their goals.

“We tried to take too many hard shots early in the game,” he said.

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