After initially planning on a game, then having those plans fall through, preseason national title contenders Gonzaga and UCLA have finally figured things out once more and agreed to play each other next season, sources told CBS Sports.
The two teams — which rank first and second in CBS Sports’ Early Top 25 And 1 — will play at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena as headliners of a four-school multi-team event (MTE) on Nov. 22 and 23. The other two teams in the event are Bellarmine and Central Michigan, sources said. Gonzaga and UCLA will face off on Nov. 23. Gonzaga will face Central Michigan, UCLA will play Bellarmine on Nov. 22.
The Bulldogs and Bruins were heavily courted by other organizers to play at three other venues: Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Arena, Los Angeles’ Staples Center and the Chase Center, in San Francisco. The game had been informally agreed to since late May, but legal rigmarole with contracts held up proceedings until the all-clear was finally given this week.
Gonzaga and UCLA of course met in the 2021 Final Four in Indianapolis, a 93-90 overtime win by then-undefeated Gonzaga that included what is already recognized as one of the most magnificent shots in the sport’s history: Jalen Suggs’ 37-footer that banked in as time expired to clinch the W for the Zags in overtime.
As Gary Parrish wrote in May, games of this magnitude are not only great for college basketball, but it’s specifically the way Gonzaga and UCLA intentionally sought to play each other. Both teams are regarded as Final Four favorites; that is a scheduling habit that every coach of every Final Four-level team should pursue each November. The reality is we only get it periodically in college hoops. Imagine if every November and December we could count on, say, at least six or seven games featuring top 20-level teams on purpose. What a boon that would be.
The strange backstory of how we got here: UCLA vs. Gonzaga only became a possibility due to the schools’ involvements with other MTEs, which fell through in the spring. A rare snafu with contracts enabled the schools (and some others) to walk away from those November 2021 events because the venues pitched, and initially agreed to, wound up not being the venues that were going to be hosting games. Gonzaga was initially lined up to play in the Empire Classic, while UCLA was to participate in the Legends Classic. Due to both of those MTEs no longer being booked at Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden — as initially agreed to — and instead being moved to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, it prompted the teams to seek games elsewhere.
So here we are. An unexpected but much-welcomed plot twist. Having a rematch of that Final Four epic is terrific, and all the more because UCLA star Johnny Juzang opted to return for his junior season, which locked in Mick Cronin’s team as a top-five squad heading into next season. Juzang, a 6-foot-6 wing, averaged 22.8 points (including a personal-best 29 vs. Gonzaga) in the NCAA Tournament.
The game will also enhance Gonzaga’s always-hefty array of nonconference opponents. Coming off statistically the best season in school history, Mark Few has also scheduled his team to play against Duke in Las Vegas, against Alabama in Seattle, against Texas Tech in Phoenix and against Texas and Washington in on-campus home tilts for the Zags.
UCLA has a high-profile matchup vs. North Carolina in the CBS Sports Classic, in addition to road games against UNLV and Marquette. But no regular season game for either team will bring more attention than this one in Vegas. A Gonzaga-UCLA matchup will likely be the second-most anticipated game of the first three weeks of the season, only surpassed by Duke vs. Kentucky in the Champions Classic on opening night, which will mark game No. 1 of Mike Krzyzewski’s final season at Duke.