Gonzaga came into the season as the No. 1 team in the country and has done nothing to change the perception that they’re the team to beat. UCLA slotted in at No. 2, and has a score to settle with the Bulldogs after an overtime loss in last year’s Final Four. Now, the top two teams in the nation will face off against each other at the Empire Classic in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.
The tournament at the T-Mobile Arena tipped off on Monday night with relatively easy matchups for both Gonzaga and UCLA.
Gonzaga, UCLA breeze past Monday opponents
Gonzaga blew out Central Michigan 107-54. Freshman center Chet Holmgren scored 19 points for the Bulldogs, who saw five players scoring in double digits on the night.
“That’s one of the beautiful things about our team, anybody can step up,” Holmgren told reporters. “We’re real deep, we got a lot of great players on this team. It’s not gonna be one person’s night every single night.”
UCLA didn’t put up the same kind of performance against 0-5 Bellarmine. But the game was never in doubt in the second half as the Bruins scored a 75-62 win to set up the Empire Classic final with Gonzaga.
Both Gonzaga and UCLA now stand at 5-0 on the season, though Gonzaga has put up more impressive performances. For instance, both schools have beaten Bellarmine, but the Bulldogs did so by 42 points on Friday.
Davenport: Both teams can win title
Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport isn’t picking between the two teams, however.
“These are two teams who can win the national championship,” Davenport said, via Yahoo. “They’re very, very different, but they’re very, very good at what they do.”
DraftKings Sportsbook rates Gonzaga as the seven-point favorite in the matchup, with the Bulldogs pulling -280 on the moneyline over UCLA (+225). But the Bruins are very much in this game and, if recent history is any indication, fans and bettors can expect a classic on Tuesday.
When the two teams met in the Final Four last season, Gonzaga came in as a heavy favorite, as the Bulldogs were riding an undefeated season and were the clear picks to win a national championship. Yet UCLA hung with them for the entire game.
WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED.
GONZAGA STAYS UNDEFEATED AT THE BUZZER! pic.twitter.com/27I8a2A9DA
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) April 4, 2021
The battle ultimately went to overtime. The Bruins tied the game with just three seconds left, but Gonzaga avoided a second overtime when Jalen Suggs hit a long three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bulldogs a 93-90 win. Gonzaga would go on to lose to Baylor 86-70 in the national championship game.