This Day in March Madness History: UCLA’s Huge Comeback Stuns Gonzaga

This Day in March Madness History

March 23, 2006
UCLA vs. Gonzaga

  • The Setup
    When UCLA and Gonzaga met in a Sweet 16 matchup, it was an anticipated matchup between the 2 and 3-seeds in the Oakland region. UCLA was coming off their first 30-win season since their 1995 national championship run, and as the 2-seed in their region, they had high hopes for their postseason aspirations in 2006. To get past Gonzaga, the Bruins would need to get rid of their Sweet 16 demons, as they had lost their prior four appearances in the regional semifinal.
    Meanwhile, Gonzaga was back in the NCAA Tournament for an eigth consecutive year, but for the first time since 2000, the Bulldogs had escaped the opening weekend and moved on to the Sweet 16. Against UCLA, they hoped to march on to their first Elite Eight since their Cinderella run in 1999. 
  • How it went down
    Throughout the first half, it looked like it would be another Sweet 16 dud from UCLA, as the Bruins failed to hit a field goal for the first 8 minutes and 43 seconds of game time. Although they scraped together seven free throws in that time, their five turnovers and 0-7 start from the field allowed the Bulldogs to carve out an 18-7 lead. It didn’t get much better from there, as UCLA didn’t get closer than nine points during the half, twice trailing by 17 points, including with 58 seconds left in the half, as Gonzaga’s Derek Raivio drilled a three. UCLA scratched out the last four points to close the gap to 13 points, but it was an uninspiring half at best.
    UCLA did well to close the gap at the beginning of the half, polishing off a 15-4 run that spanned both halves to draw within six points at 46-40. However, Adam Morrison came in clutch, knocking down a triple and free throw to push the lead back to ten. With 3:26 remaining in the game, Morrison got a pair of shots from the charity stripe to fall, and Gonzaga led 71-62, with a berth in the Elite Eight almost inevitable.
    UCLA didn’t exactly fire on all cylinders down the stretch, but they made a few shots, and that was more than Gonzaga could say. Luc Richard Mbah hit a pair of threes and then a layup, bringing the Bruins within 71-66 and causing Gonzaga to take a timeout with 1:48 to go. On their ensuing possession, the Bulldogs got two shots off and missed them both, including a layup. Two offensive possessions later, UCLA got a jumper to fall to bring the deficit to three points, the first time they were within a possession since trailing 5-2.
    With 20 seconds to play, UCLA drained two more free throws, narrowing the deficit to a single point. They put on the full-court press and got a steal, which led to an easy layup for Mbah and a 72-71 lead. A UCLA steal and free throw extended the lead to two points. Gonzaga’s full court pass connected, but their attempt at a game-tying jumper did not. When it was all over, Gonzaga missed their last eight field goal attempts, not making a shot from the field in the final 5:13, allowing UCLA to end the game on a 14-2 run, including the last eleven points, and bring home the victory.
  • The Aftermath
    UCLA’s stunning victory brought them to the Elite Eight, where they upset top-seeded Memphis, 50-45, to advance to the Final Four. They took down LSU in the semifinals, but the Bruins could not finish the job, finally succumbing to Florida in the national championship. It was the first of three consecutive Final Four appearances, but UCLA never was able to grasp the championship trophy. They haven’t been past the Sweet 16 since 2008.
    Gonzaga’s struggles to get past the Sweet 16 continued far past 2006. The Bulldogs were bounced in the opening weekend of 7 of their next 8 tournament appearances, before they finally cracked the code in 2015, reaching the Elite Eight. 
  • NBA Notables (Teams they played 100+ games with)
    Gonzaga –  Adam Morrison (Hornets)
    UCLA – Luc Mbah-A-Moute (Bucks, Clippers), Ryan Hollins (Clippers, Hornets), Jordan Farmar (Lakers, Nets), Darren Collison (Pacer, Spurs)

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