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Gonzaga advances to the Elite 8 after a ridiculous battle against UCLA

Julian Strawther got to be the hero in his hometown

Gonzaga v UCLA Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When the Gonzaga Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins play in the NCAA Tournament, it is going to be a ridiculous game. These teams refuse to have a normal 40 minutes (and sometimes 45 minutes) of exercise against one another. We hate it. But deep down we all really love it.

Give Drew Timme the Wooden Award, Naismith Award, Lombardi Trophy, Conn Smythe, Participation Ribbon, every sports award that exists out there should be given to him for the work he did to lead Gonzaga into the Elite 8. As evidenced by his 36 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and countless bruises, Timme refused to let Gonzaga lose this game, even when it looked bad. And at times, it looked real bad.

In an unexpected plot twist, both teams came out firing to start the game with the tempo far closer to Gonzaga’s liking than UCLA’s. The Zags didn’t take advantage of the Bruins playing their game, however, and in fact got victimized by it as the Bruins easily dissected Gonzaga’s porous defense en route to 46 points during the opening half.

Timme did all he could to keep the Zags in the game, scoring 15 points in the first eight minutes. The second scorer that has often been Strawther didn’t materialize in the opening half, and no one else stepped up either to fill that void. With Timme the only one producing and no one playing defense at the other end, things looked quite grisly for Gonzaga at the break with a 13-point deficit to overcome despite shooting 54% from the field.

If Gonzaga was going to turn things around in the second half, it was going to be because they stopped coughing up inexcusable turnovers (9 of them in the first half) and they remembered how to defend a simple a ball screen.

Gonzaga opened the second half with a ridiculously gross unforced turnover, but perhaps they needed one more to get it out of their system (spoiler alert: it wasn’t the last silly turnover). Somehow, despite the inauspicious beginning to the restart, the Zags found a way to turn things around. But, of course, it took some heroic performances.

Timme continued his supernova act from the first half and willed his team back from the brink of elimination. The level he played at during the first nine minutes of the second half (and of course the entire game, missed free throws at the end of the game are forgiven now) when it looked like the Bruins were poised to deliver a knockout punch at any moment is the stuff that legends are made of. Drew Timme is that dude.

Timme finally got the help he was looking for as Strawther woke up from his first half slumber with 14 of his 16 points coming in the second half. The starting backcourt had a night to forget, but Malachi Smith stepped in off the bench to have his tournament moment after an unfortunate outing with Chattanooga last season as he scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and bullied the UCLA guards at both ends of the floor.

The Gonzaga defense, deservingly maligned in the first half, put together 11 minutes of high quality basketball in the second half to key the comeback. Of course, because things can never be simple, things also came apart in the final two minutes after Gonzaga built a 10-point lead with the finish line in sight. The Bruins put together one last gasp push to erase Gonzaga’s lead and took the lead with 12 seconds to go on an Amari Bailey three.

With all the momentum shifted back to the boys from Westwood, the hometown kid stepped to center stage and got to be the hero in his hometown. Enjoy watching the video on an endless loop until Saturday night:

What a shot. What a game. What a tournament. See you all on Saturday.