LAS VEGAS — With apologies to Cecil B. DeMille, Julian Strawther was ready for his close-up. Even if he was some 30 feet away.
The Gonzaga junior guard, who grew up in Las Vegas, said he felt like he was starring in his own movie after hitting a deep 3-pointer and converting a free throw in the last seven seconds to give the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs a white-knuckle 79-76 victory over No. 2 UCLA on Thursday night and send them to a West Region final against No. 4 UConn.
“All the story behind it,” Strawther said. “Just being home. Down at halftime. Come back. Take a big lead. Give it right back up. Come right back down and make a shot like that? It really felt like a movie.”
Consider: Before Strawther converted his straightaway shot from darn near the Nevada-California state line, he was only 4-of-14 shooting from the field, 2-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc. And Gonzaga, which trailed at halftime 46-33 only to take a 10-point lead (72-62) with 2:30 to play, found itself behind 76-75 with 12 seconds to play.
A movie? Who would have believed this script? Especially on the 17-year anniversary to the day of the infamous Adam Morrison-inconsolable-on-the-court Sweet 16 game in Oakland, California, where the Bruins scored the final 11 points to break Gonzaga’s hearts. And yeah, Morrison was in Las Vegas on Thursday, calling the game on the radio.
Because in the huddle after UCLA called timeout upon taking the lead, as Gonzaga coach Mark Few drew up a play that featured “a little dribble hand-off action, [to] see if we could get their defense on their heels a little bit,” Strawther said. Strawther asked if he could shoot the ball if it came to him.
Few unloaded some choice expletives in the affirmative. Message received. Shot taken.
“It was a clean look,” he said. “I got the ball and it was in my range so I shot it.”
Gonzaga senior forward Drew Timme laughed.
“I mean, I can’t even describe what he did,” said Timme, who finished with 36 points and 13 rebounds.
“I’m not speechless too much, and I’m pretty speechless after that. But I am the No. 1 Julian Strawther fan forever now.”
The job description is already taken, though, by his father Lee.
Strawther, who starred at Southern Nevada’s Liberty High School, lost his mother, Lourdes, to breast cancer when he was 9 years old and has a tribute to her tattooed on his left arm and chest. So after UCLA point guard Tyger Campbell‘s running 3-point attempt bounded harmlessly away as the final buzzer sounded, Strawther ran to a corner of the court and stared up into the stands as he was swarmed by teammates.
“This is my city,” he screamed to the crowd in the postgame celebration. “This is my city.”
He was more subdued in the locker room.
“I definitely looked in my dad’s direction, and my friends’,” said Strawther, who had a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “I knew where they were at. It’s one of those things where you kind of just black out. You don’t know what’s going on. It’s hard to react to what just happened.
“Literally, when you’re a kid, you dream of making a shot like that. Especially in March Madness. And the cherry on top is being home in Vegas. Words can’t describe how I’m feeling right now. It felt like a movie, you know?”