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Enthused Las Vegas crowd watches Gonzaga roll UCLA

Updated November 24, 2021 - 4:48 am

Scan the seats inside T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday night and spot a mixture of navy blue and true blue, not so sutbtly signaling a loyaly to Gonzaga or UCLA.

Scan the court and see the best two teams in the country. And perhaps its best player — along with one of the city’s native sons.

Scan the sideline and see a living legend, back where he belongs.

Behold the pagentry of college basketball in Las Vegas.

The No. 1 Bulldogs and No. 2 Bruins battled in the final of the Good Sam Empire Classic, drawing an anounced crowd of 12,975 to watch a rematch of one of the most memorable games in Final Four history. The rematch wasn’t as dramatic. Rather, it wasn’t competitive as Gonzaga rolled 83-63 and led by double digits for the final 34 minutes.

But the basketball crazed crowd didn’t seem to care, remaining engaged all night to celebrate the 43rd all-time matchup between No. 1 and No. 2.

“It reminded me of something maybe you’d see in a regional final,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Few. “It was loud. Both fans showed up. Great atmosphere, and the atmosphere matched perfectly with the game and what was at stake and the two teams that were out there.”

Gonzaga freshman Chet Holmgren showcased all of his two-way brilliance, unveiling the exceptional skill set that has NBA scouts salivating. The slender 7-footer finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, six rebounds and four blocks — essentially denying Bruins ball handlers the paint with his length, timing and mobility.

He’s a smooth ball handler, too, for his size. Example: He erased a shot at the rim, grabbed a rebound, pushed in transition, shook UCLA senior big man Myles Johnson with a behind-the-back dribble and effortlessly dunked with two hands.

One singular sequence encapsulated his No. 1 pick potential.

“It’s just Chet. There’s no other way to describe it,” Gonzaga junior big man Drew Timme said. “He’s one of a kind.”

Liberty graduate, Las Vegas native and Bulldogs sophomore Julian Strawther was announced last among Gonzaga’s starters in a classy acknowledgement of a homecoming that continues Friday against No. 5 Duke at T-Mobile Arena. He buried two catch-and-shoot 3-pointers and was active on the glass en route to 12 points and nine rebounds.

All the while, ESPN’s Dick Vitale was on the call for the first time this season, flanked courtside by broadcast partner Dave O’Brien. The 82-year-old coach turned commentator is one of the faces of college basketball and revealed in October that he’d been diagnosed with cancer. He’s undergoing chemotherapy, but was cleared by his doctors in Florida to work Tuesday.

Besides, he wasn’t going to miss a matchup of this magnitude.

Public address announcer Chet Buchanan honored Vitale, known to many as “Dickie V,” with a brief tribute during a media timeout in the first half. The T-Mobile Arena crowd welcomed Vitale with a standing ovation, and he smiled bashfully as he appeared on the video board.

He’s back, baby.

“He just loves this game. And he’s done so much for this game. … What an ambassador for college basketball he is,” Few said. “You talk about making an impact in your life, man. Dickie V has made an impact.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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