Gonzaga. UCLA. Fireworks await in Sweet 16.

Now that your tears have dried from processing yet another shattered bracket, it is time to take a deep breath, refocus, and whet the appetite for what promises to be another memorable weekend of college basketball.

We’ve made it to the Sweet Sixteen, with the Elite Eight beckoning on the doorstep, and by Sunday night, we will know who is heading to Houston and the men’s Final Four.

For a fourth time in their history, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and UCLA Bruins will meet in the NCAA Tournament.  Their regional semifinal clash on Thursday night in Las Vegas is the best and most highly-anticipated matchup in the Sweet Sixteen.

Many remember their first tourney meeting in 2006, also a regional semifinal, which took place 17 years ago to the day of the upcoming showdown this Thursday night.

UCLA was the 2-seed and Gonzaga the 3-seed in Oakland, Calif.

UCLA trailed by 17 points in the first half and still trailed by nine with just over three minutes left in regulation. But a late 11-0 run stole the game from Adam Morrison, Mark Few and the Bulldogs; the 73-71 comeback sent UCLA to the Elite Eight where they beat Memphis and punched a ticket to the program’s 15th Final Four. That began a stretch of three consecutive Final Four appearances by the Bruins under head coach Ben Howland, though the program remains without a national championship since 1995.


In 2015, the two west coast powers met again in the Sweet Sixteen, but this time UCLA was an 11-seed with Gonzaga on the 2-line.  The Bruins beat 6-seed SMU and 14-seed UAB to reach the South regional semis in Houston, while Gonzaga went through Seattle with a pair of comfortable wins to start their tournament.  The Zags were led by Portland native and Jesuit standout Kyle Wiltjer, along with Przymek Karnowski and a promising Domantas Sabonis coming off the bench. They avenged, at least in part, their 2006 nightmare to UCLA with a 74-62 win before bowing out to eventual national runners-up Duke in the regional final.

The third and most recent tournament clash delivered a crescendo of stakes and thrill.

The Covid-impacted 2021 NCAA Tournament took place entirely in the state of Indiana.  Mick Cronin was in his second season as UCLA head coach, but the Bruins lost their final three games of the regular season and also lost their Pac-12 Tournament opener to Oregon State, the start of the improbable Elite Eight run by the Beavers.

UCLA was one of the last teams in the tournament field, playing as an 11-seed in the First Four where they defeated Michigan State. Then came wins over 6-seed BYU and 14-seed Abilene Christian. Playing with newfound confidence, the Bruins kept their run going with upset wins over 2-seed Alabama and 1-seed Michigan to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis.  That Bruins team became just the second First Four to Final Four team in NCAA Tournament history, joining 2011 VCU.

Gonzaga, meanwhile, was a perfect 30-0 entering the Final Four, with their best chance at winning the program’s first-ever NCAA Championship in men’s basketball. They were the number-one overall seed in that tournament, led by freshman standout Jalen Suggs and sophomore post extraordinaire Drew Timme, who still leads the Zags today.

Mark Few’s crew won by double-digits in each of the four games that earned them a spot in the program’s second Final Four (lost in 2017 national championship to North Carolina).  The Zags were favored by 14 points over that UCLA squad, the largest point spread in a national semifinal since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

But the Bruins gave the Bulldogs all they could handle.  The game went to overtime, featured 19 lead changes and 15 ties, and ended with one of the most dramatic sequences the sport has ever seen.

Jalen Suggs’ 30-foot bank for the win immediately became one of college basketball’s most iconic moments. But the win, while unforgettable, was both physically and emotionally draining, and Gonzaga had less than 48 hours to prepare for Baylor and the national championship game.  There, Gonzaga’s perfect season ended; their quest for the ever-elusive national championship came up just short, as Baylor took home the title with an 86-70 win.

A one-sided affair in November 2021 saw Gonzaga again beat UCLA 83-63 in a game played at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, part of the Good Samaritan Empire Classic. The same venue welcomes the same matchup on Thursday.

With this history serving as the backdrop, it is time for Gonzaga and UCLA to shine on the national stage once again. A number of players will be on the floor Thursday night who were part of that epic Final Four battle two years ago.  Chief among them: UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez, Jr. – the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year – and point guard Tyger Campbell, while Gonzaga boasts the omnipresent Timme.

UCLA is a 2-point betting favorite, per Caesar’s.

Tip-off from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is set for approximately 6:45 p.m. following the other regional semifinal featuring (8) Arkansas and (4) UConn.

Gonzaga is 5-2 all-time in the series with UCLA.

The Bulldogs are in their eighth consecutive Sweet Sixteen, the longest active streak in the country.

You can listen to UCLA-Gonzaga, as well as all the action all tournament long from Westwood One, exclusively in Portland on 750 The Game and streaming for free at 750TheGame.com. Check out our full regional semifinal schedule here.