Any college basketball fan left disappointed by Gonzaga’s wire-to-wire manhandling of UCLA on Tuesday night had to feel made whole by Friday’s epic showdown between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 5 Duke in Las Vegas. The Blue Devils won by a score of 84-81 in a game played on Nov. 26 that had the feel of a late March or early April grudge match.
Everything about the felt magnified. The streets around the building had been blocked off by police cars and security was tight. In the moments before the game, some fans scrambled to find tickets. As tipoff approached, the most expensive courtside seats were going for nearly $8,000.
Brooks Koepka and Floyd Mayweather Jr. — wearing a chain that glistened across the building — were part of the crowd of 20,389 that filled the arena and set a record for the largest basketball crowd in Nevada history.
The battle between future NBA lottery picks Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga and Paolo Banchero of Duke was among the must-watch elements of the contest, with Banchero (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting, including 20 points in the first half) leaving with the upper hand statistically as Holmgren (16 points on 8-of-13 shooting) also showed frequent flashes of his potential No. 1 pick-style brilliance. The celebrated freshmen were hardly the only story, as Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Andrew Nembhard (6 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds) and Duke’s Mark Williams (17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Wendell Moore Jr. (20 points, 6 assists, 4 steals) were also outstanding in the contest.
The loss was Gonzaga’s first in the regular season since Feb. 22, 2020, when the Bulldogs fell at BYU.