The thing that makes March Madness great is that every season games get added to the pantheon of classics that we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives. Whether it’s the Gordon Hayward shot that never was against Duke. The Xavier-Kansas State 2010 double-OT thriller. T.J. Sorrentine hitting one from the parking lot. All of these games have one thing in common (well, two). One of them is Gus Johnson. The other is if you asked a college basketball fan (or sports fan) if they remember any of these games, the answer is absolutely.
One of those classics was back in 2006, an Adam Morrison-led No. 3 Gonzaga Bulldogs team going up against the No. 2 UCLA Bruins in the Sweet 16. Morrison was in the midst of perhaps one of the best college seasons by a player ever, averaging just over 28 points per game for Gonzaga, which at the time wasn’t the well-known powerhouse they are today.
UCLA was UCLA. Then coached by Ben Howland, who would go on to coach Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love in future seasons. But this game is the one many fans will remember when thinking of the Bruins in the mid-2000s. UCLA had a stacked roster featuring plenty of future NBA players — Arron Afflalo, Jordan Farmer, Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman. It also had a young Darren Collison, Alfred Aboya and Josh Shipp.
Fast-forward to 2023, the same matchup in the same spot is happening on Thursday night at 9:45 p.m. ET on CBS at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. No. 2 UCLA will face No. 3 Gonzaga in a matchup to reach the Elite Eight, a place both teams are familiar with in recent seasons. Before we get into the current iteration, let’s look back at what happened in the 2006 matchup, specifically the collapse of the Bulldogs.
If you go back and watch the last 40.8 second of the 2006 matchup, most of what everyone remembers is Morrison on the floor crying. As someone who was 16 years old at the time, there was nothing more embarrassing than that. Being seen as weak on national television. What we understand and sympathize with now is that this behavior was more than OK from Morrison, who played his heart out only to have his dreams wrenched from him (seemingly by a teammate).
Gonzaga was coasting through most of this game. The Bulldogs had built up a lead of as many as 14 points in the second half. Morrison was playing well; he would eventually finish with 24 points. J.P. Batista (who we’ll get to later), had 18 points and nine rebounds in the loss. Turnovers were the issue but not until late in the game. Gonzaga gets to the 71-point mark on a pair of free throws by Morrison with 3:26 left in the game. That would be all the scoring the Bulldogs would accomplish the rest of the game.
If you watch the highlights from the end of the game, you’ll see that Batista gives a masterclass in what NOT to do at the end of a college basketball game. Gonzaga is in the double bonus and UCLA is shooting a 1-and-1. The Bulldogs lead 71-68 and have the ball. Morrison misses a jumper and Batista commits a foul on the ensuing rebound. Was it actually a foul? Probably not. It was super ticky-tacky for that situation. But you can see Hollins going for the ball and Bautista holds him back. Big no-no fouling in that situation with UCLA going to the line and the clock stopped.
So Hollins goes to the line and makes both shots to make it 71-70 with 19.7 seconds left in the game. UCLA is pressing and Gonzaga inbounds to Morrison, who throws a pass across the court to Batista. Derek Raivio is wide open providing an outlet for Batista, who is immediately doubled by Bozeman and freshman Ryan Wright. Batista is instead looking upcourt instead of at his open teammate. The double forces a turnover, which leads to an easy bucket by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to give the Bruins a 72-71 lead.
What makes things even worse is there’s plenty of time left. Gonzaga turns the ball over again. UCLA gets possession and the Bulldogs are forced to foul. What makes things EVEN more worse is Afflalo is fouled with a few seconds left and MISSES one of the free throws. UCLA goes up 73-71 and the Bulldogs have another shot with 2.6 seconds left. At this point, Morrison already appears to be distraught over the collapse. The icing on the cake is Gonzaga heaves the inbounds down the court and Batista gets a VERY GOOD look to tie the game. He shoots it off the backboard, misses, and the rest is history.
A lot of people say it takes a team to lose. We’re not saying this one was all on Bautista. He’s the reason Gonzaga got this far in the tournament and was in position to win the game. What it shows us is that anything can happen in March with any amount of time left. No lead is safe. No player is safe from the madness. It’s why the tournament is so polarizing and why we continue (and will continue) to worship it until the end of time.
That loss seemed to define Morrison for the rest of his career, a career that would not last very long in the NBA despite him being one of the more prolific scorers in NCAA history. Would we remember Morrison had Gonzaga won that game and sputtered out further along in the tournament? Going to the NBA and having a average career? Perhaps. Is it bad to be remembered for a game like that back in ‘06? One could argue Morrison is legend because of it.
So looking ahead to the current matchup of UCLA-Gonzaga, we find a similar set of characters. Drew Timme on one side, the leader of the Bulldogs back for another season after flaring out in 2022. Gonzaga has a chance at redemption after losing last season as the favorite. UCLA entered the tournament as a hot commodity but injuries had dampened that sentiment. Still, the Bruins are positioned well to reach another Final Four, this time not completely out of nowhere from the play-in.
One thing about this 2023 tournament is it feels like we haven’t had a signature game. One that defines the entire tournament. One that when your friend asks “Hey do you remember ...” You’re damn right we remember that Gonzaga-UCLA game from back in 2006. Perhaps the 2023 version will be the latest to be etched in the halls of great college basketball games. We’ll find out soon enough.