Despite being shorthanded, UCLA expects another classic clash against Gonzaga

UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) passes around Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) during the second half.
UCLA guard Tyger Campbell (10) passes around Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) during the second half of an NCAA tournament Final Four game on April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

The tears before the end of an epic collapse.

The 40-footer banked in at the buzzer.

If you know, you know. And most everybody does.

Drama is assured when UCLA faces Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament.

The teams have met three times on college basketball’s biggest stage, producing two of the event’s most iconic moments. Start with Gonzaga's Adam Morrison crying before a 2006 regional semifinal was over, Bruins fans committing broadcaster Gus Johnson’s breathless narration of the final seconds to memory.

“And the steal … Farmar … inside … the freshman up … and they go in front!”

Fifteen years later, Morrison was on the call for Gonzaga’s IMG Radio when Jalen Suggs improbably banked in that heave from just inside halfcourt to beat the Bruins in the Final Four.

“Yesssssss!” Morrison bellowed, drowning out his broadcast partner. “Yesssssss! Yesssssss!”

What’s next? CBS broadcasters Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner and Stan Van Gundy are undoubtedly hoping for another classic finish Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena when second-seed UCLA (31-5) faces third-seed Gonzaga (30-5) in a West Regional semifinal.

There will be no fear but plenty of loathing in Las Vegas. Much of the hostility will belong to the Bruins given they have lost to the Bulldogs in each of the last two years, including a 20-point rout on this same court in November 2021.

Gonzaga also prevailed in the only other NCAA tournament meeting between the teams, a 12-point victory in a 2015 regional semifinal, and holds a 5-2 all-time record against UCLA.

Those who believe in the power of symmetry might favor the Bruins. Thursday is the 17-year anniversary of the UCLA’s comeback from 17 points behind during that regional semifinal against Gonzaga in Oakland, and oddsmakers have given the nod to the Bruins by making them two-point favorites.

But short-handed UCLA might be further depleted. Having persevered through the loss of top defender Jaylen Clark, the Bruins completed their second-round victory over Northwestern with freshman center Adem Bona in pain after aggravating a shoulder injury and senior sharpshooter David Singleton sidelined by a rolled ankle.

While Bona sat at his locker with his shoulder heavily wrapped afterward, Singleton said he was “fine.” Status updates are expected Tuesday when coach Mick Cronin next meets with the media.

Clark is scheduled to accompany teammates to Las Vegas after having remained in Southern California for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. He’s just beginning a lengthy recovery from a lower-leg injury suffered in the final regular-season game.

UCLA's Adem Bona grimaces in pain after coming out of the game against Northwestern as teammate Mac Etienne looks on.
UCLA's Adem Bona grimaces in pain after coming out of the game against Northwestern as teammate Mac Etienne looks on in the second half of the second round of the NCAA tournament in Sacramento on Saturday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“It’s going to be fun having him around,” Singleton said last weekend in Sacramento. “I miss him and wish he was here, but stuff happens. I’m just glad he can be a part of this somehow, some way.”

Clark is among the seven players on UCLA’s roster back from the team that lost to the Bulldogs in a national semifinal two years ago. Fifth-year senior center Kenneth Nwuba played less than a minute in that game but could move into a prominent role Thursday, earning the defensive assignment on Gonzaga’s Drew Timme if Bona is unable to go because of his shoulder injury.

The mustache-stroking Timme carried the Bulldogs into their eighth consecutive Sweet 16 with a 28-point effort in the second round against Texas Christian on Sunday, suggesting afterward that he was inspired by online jabs from Horned Frogs fans.

“Throw lighter fluid on the fire if you wish,” Timme told reporters. “I thought TCU was a highly educated school and they didn't sound so smart with their comments.”

Widely dismissed as a national title contender after a home loss to Loyola Marymount was followed by a tie with Saint Mary’s for the West Coast Conference’s regular-season title, the Bulldogs have blitzed their way to 11 consecutive victories to secure the nation’s longest active winning streak.

UCLA has been just as hot, winning 14 of 15 games to reach the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive season with Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Tyger Campbell leading the way.

“Mick’s done a great job of just instilling his personality and toughness into that program,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told reporters. “Very defensive-minded and a lot of isolations, the ball’s going to be in Jaquez and Tyger’s hands a lot.”

UCLA hasn’t had much luck in Las Vegas since winning the Pac-12 tournament in 2014 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Bruins have lost their final game in all six conference tournaments at T-Mobile Arena, dropped a game there against North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic in 2019 and was run off the court by Gonzaga last season.

Bulldogs fans vastly outnumbered their Bruins counterparts inside the arena that night, giving them a loud last word.

There will be more jabbering Thursday, each team jockeying for what might be another historic final say.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.