Gonzaga, UCLA Victorious on Day One of Good Sam Empire Classic
November 22, 2021
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Top-rated Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA did what they had to do to ensure the 43rd meeting between the top two teams in the Associated Press poll.At T-Mobile Arena, UCLA opened the Good Sam Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project presented by Continental Tire with a battle against Bellarmine. UCLA won the game on the scoreboard. Mick Cronin thought it was a loss. With a heavyweight rematch waiting on the Las Vegas Strip, the Bruins’ coach didn’t think he got the full 40-minute effort he hoped for from his group. But UCLA won its fifth straight game to open the season with a 75-62 win against Bellarmine on Monday Night in the Empire Classic, setting the stage for Tuesday’s top-two showdown with No. 1 Gonzaga in a rematch of last season’s Final Four Gonzaga won 93-90 in overtime on a buzzer-beater from Jalen Suggs, who was the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. “The things I care about — hustle, attitude, effort, execution, the things that will get you wins when they really count — to me matter more than any category,” Cronin said. “So it’s a credit to (Bellarmine) coach (Scott) Davenport.” Peyton Watson had a game-high 19 points in 20 minutes off the bench, and Johnny Juzang added 13 for the Bruins (5-0). UCLA gets a shot at revenge. Are the Bruins ready? “No,” Cronin said. “Absolutely not. The challenge, for me, is us maintaining who we are. If we’re just going to be a great team and make shots, we’re in deep trouble.” Playing in its first game in four days, UCLA came out missing eight of its first 10 shots. The Bruins’ defense responded, forcing Bellarmine to a 3 of 13 start in the first 11 minutes. UCLA went on a 19-2 run with Watson, the freshman from Long Beach, California, atoning for nine of those points Watson shot 9 of 12 for the game and had four rebounds, easily outpacing his 3.3 points average through four games this season. “Just a great week of practice, a great week of preparation,” Watson said. “The guys just told me to be patient, play my game, don’t think about it too much, just come out and play my hardest. That’s what I put a lot of emphasis on, just coming out, giving it my all and helping the team win.” David Singleton added 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting for the Bruins, who shot 45.2% despite Juzang (5 of 14), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (3 of 11) and Tyger Campbell (1 of 7) combining to shoot 28.1%. Bellarmine (0-5) lost in double digits for the fourth time in five games and is coming off consecutive losses against the nation’s top two teams. The Knights lost 92-50 at Gonzaga on Friday. Dylan Penn led Bellarmine with 19 points and seven rebounds, while CJ Fleming had 12 points and made two 3-pointers. In the nightcap, Chet Holmgren scored 19 points and Gonzaga breezed past Central Michigan 107-54. Gonzaga (5-0), the No. 1 team for the 19th straight week, has defeated its first five opponents by an average margin of 33.6 points. Gonzaga, which came into the game averaging 89.8 points per game, topped the 100-point plateau for the first time this season behind double-digit scoring from five players. Nolan Hickman finished with 16 points, Julian Strawther scored 15 points, and Drew Timme and Rasir Bolton each had 11.
The Bulldogs will face the Bruins on Tuesday, its second showdown with a top-5 opponent this season after beating then-No. 5 Texas 86-74 on Nov. 13. Gonzaga beat UCLA in last year’s NCAA Tournament 93-90 in overtime on a buzzer-beater by Jalen Suggs.Central Michigan (1-3) was led by Harrison Henderson with 11 points Jermaine Jackson Jr., who came in leading Central Michigan with an average of 14.3 points per game, was held to just eight. Gonzaga used a 17-0 run in the first half to build its biggest lead at 52-23. The Bulldogs shot a blistering 60.5% from the floor and outrebounded Central Michigan 23-10. The Zags dominated play in the paint offensively, outscoring the Chippewas 40-6 from the key. Despite shooting 50% from 3-point range in the first half, hitting 7 of 14 from beyond the arc, the Chippewas’ effort only got them within 24 at halftime, trailing 56-32. The Bulldogs’ relentless defense in the first half triggered a transition game that saw them turn 10 CMU turnovers into 15 points. They were also dominant with seven offensive rebounds and outscored the Chippewas 6-0 with second-chance points.
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