LAS VEGAS — Julian Strawther hit a 3-pointer with 6 seconds left to answer a 3-pointer by UCLA’s Amari Bailey, lifting Gonzaga to a wild 79-76 NCAA Tournament win over UCLA Thursday night in the Sweet 16.
The Bruins (31-6), the West Region’s No. 2 seed, stormed back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:05 and took a 76-75 lead on Bailey’s 3-pointer with 12.2 seconds left.
The Zags (31-5) brought the ball up the floor and Strawther stepped into a 3-pointer, sending Gonzaga fans to their feet.
Gonzaga’s Malachi Smith stole the ball from UCLA’s Tyger Campbell, but Strawther only hit 1 of 2 free throws at the other end, giving the Bruins a chance.
Campbell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer hit the back of the rim, sending the Zags rushing off the bench and into the Elite Eight against UConn on Saturday.
Strawther’s shot, off a drop pass, was reminiscent of the one Villanova’s Kris Jenkins made to clinch the 2016 national championship.
It’s the second time Gonzaga has beaten UCLA on a last-second shot in the NCAA Tournament. Jalen Suggs crushed the Bruins the last time, hitting a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Zags to the 2021 national championship game.
The flurry of a finish started off more like a prize fight, each team taking its turn landing blows in a game of wild swings. UCLA led by 13 at the half, but Gonzaga led by 10 with 2:30 left in game. Then UCLA didn’t make a shot for more than 12 minutes, and still but rallied to lead 76-75 with 13 seconds left.
The Zags were led by Drew Timme, who had 36 points for his record 10th NCAA Tournament game with 20 points.
Gonzaga also turned up the defensive pressure after UCLA’s hot-shooting first half and led by eight, but Jaime Jaquez Jr. scored on a three-point play and a layup to cut it 74-71 with 45 seconds left. Timme then missed two free throws, setting up Bailey’s shot.
Thankfully for the Zags, Strawther was on the mark with his long 3-pointer, sending them to the Elite Eight for the fifth time under coach Mark Few.
Jaquez finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds.
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