By Carla Hall, CNN • Updated 21st August 2017
No. 1 Gonzaga throttled the UCLA Bruins 86-67 on Monday night.
And, but for WCC and Big West rivalries, this would have been the sports event of the year. This was definitely the best conference tournament game I’ve ever seen, a game so game-changing and so pivotal to one of the nation’s best programs.
It was the final game of the season, so this was an opportunity for the Zags to become No. 1. And lose would be a devastating loss, one that would keep U.C.L.A. alive in the national title hunt, but also likely plunge the Bruins into last place in the conference.
And there would have been all sorts of chicanery at UCLA to make sure the Bruins didn’t get past the first round.
Gonzaga is typically the alpha dog, the most dominant program in the WCC and one of the best in the country, a program that just keeps winning, finishing 38-1 this year. They are everything an elite program should be. The Zags are also beloved and adored by their home fans. The Zags remind me a little of LSU, a school in the thick of a great rivalry with Notre Dame. In recent years, LSU has tried to get off that rivalry, they’ve lost their mojo, they’ve lost their intensity, they’ve lost the fan support, they’ve lost their ceiling.
And now, I think, LSU fans are beginning to wonder the same thing Gonzaga has faced for years — if that program has peaked. And maybe that has something to do with why, when Gonzaga wins, all this fan support and this extraordinary buzz, evaporates. For a team that can drive a hick town like Gonzaga to great heights, the zip in the city can even drive some fans away.
This one in San Jose was different. It was huge. It was that bad.
The Zags, the No. 1 seed in the conference, jumped out to a 19-point lead over the No. 2 Bruins early in the second half. Gonzaga then went on a 14-0 run and this game was all but over.
But the Bruins fought back and cut the Zags’ lead to six points.
And just like I tell LSU fans, it looks like you got one shot at getting the hump and you gotta grab it.
The Zags, the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, took the ball down the floor and, with 3.7 seconds left, went up one. But UCLA had the ball back, down one. They had a chance to win and, to their credit, the Bruins made the pass to their man and fed him the ball with 5.1 seconds left. The ball went up and missed. And Gonzaga had the WCC crown and UCLA fell to 3-12 against Gonzaga.
This one will go down as the one with the most significance, a game where there is really nothing else to look forward to during the NCAA basketball season, even if the regular season is still good. And most certainly not a game that will result in many one-and-done gambles.
In more ways than one.
Welcome to San Jose.
The Bruins now head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 conference tournament.
The Zags now head to Las Vegas for the NCAA tournament.