Gonzaga and UCLA to Meet in 2021 Empire Classic Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project Presented by Continental Tire
Central Michigan and Bellarmine complete the field at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas
PRINCETON, N.J. (July 26, 2021) – The top two teams in the country, Gonzaga and UCLA, headline the 27th annual Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project presented by Continental Tire, which will be held at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on November 22 and 23. Joining them will be Central Michigan and Bellarmine.
Gonzaga and UCLA will meet on Tuesday, Nov. 23 in a rematch of the epic national semifinal overtime thriller that ended in Gonzaga’s banked buzzer beater to beat the Bruins 93-90.
“We look forward to presenting the most anticipated game of the season.” said Rick Giles, President of The Gazelle Group. “The opportunity to have a rematch of a historic Final Four game with teams expected to be ranked No. 1 and No. 2 entering the season is unprecedented. Both teams are returning many players from that game and Gonzaga also welcomes Chet Holmgren, the most exciting incoming freshman since Zion Williamson.”
The complete schedule for the event is as follows:
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ESPN networks, game times, and ticket information for the Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project presented by Continental Tire will be announced at a later date.
For further information about the Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project presented by Continental Tire, visit empireclassic.net and follow us on social media @EmpireClassicBB.
Gonzaga (Head Coach: Mark Few, West Coast Conference) – Gonzaga advanced to its sixth-straight Sweet 16 in 2020-21, the longest active streak in the nation, before ending the season in the program’s second national championship game appearance. The Zags won 31 games, going 15-0 in West Coast Conference play, winning the league regular season title for the ninth straight season. The Bulldogs welcome back a talented team in 2021-22, led by trendy preseason national player of the year pick Drew Timme. Last season’s West Coast Conference Sixth Man of the Year Andrew Nembhard is back, along with Anton Watson who started in 17 games. Multiple media outlets have ranked GU in the Top 5 in their early preseason projections. Gonzaga brings in one of the best recruiting classes in program history. Fellow incoming signees include the nation’s top overall prospect Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis (No. 6 ranked recruit), Nolan Hickman (No. 22), and Kaden Perry (No. 62).
UCLA (Head Coach: Mick Cronin, Pac-12 Conference) – CLA will return every player who competed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, as the Bruins won five consecutive games last March to advance to the NCAA Final Four. Head coach Mick Cronin will begin his third season as the Bruins’ head coach, having compiled a 41-22 record through his first two years in Westwood. The Bruins welcome back a 10-man rotation that saw action down the stretch last season, including top scorer Johnny Juzang (16.0 ppg), first-team All-Pac-12 selection Tyger Campbell (10.4 ppg, 5.4 apg) and top rebounder Jaime Jaquez Jr. (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg). UCLA went 22-10 overall in 2020-21, recording a 13-6 record in the Pac-12 before advancing to the NCAA Tournament’s “First Four” as a No. 11 seed. The Bruins registered NCAA Tournament wins against Michigan State, BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama and Michigan before dropping an overtime contest to Gonzaga (93-90) in the Final Four.
Central Michigan (Head Coach: Tony Barbee, Mid-Atlantic Conference) – A new era in Central Michigan basketball was ushered in on April 23, 2021 when Tony Barbee was named the 21st head coach in program history. Barbee came to CMU from Kentucky where he has spent the last seven seasons as a member of John Calipari’s staff, serving in three roles: associate to the head coach (2020-21), assistant coach (2015-20) and special assistant to the head coach (2014-15). Barbee’s career includes head coaching experience at both Auburn and UTEP; at UTEP, he was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year after leading the Miners to a conference regular-season title and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2010. Barbee and his high-energy, veteran staff have reshaped the Chippewas roster, building the identity of the program on the principles of sacrifice, accountability, respect, communication, winning and a family environment.
Bellarmine (Head Coach: Scott Davenport, ASUN Conference) – The 2021-22 Knights welcome back the vast majority of last year’s squad with Pedro Bradshaw being only the player logging significant minutes not coming back. The four returning starters include the backcourt tandem of 1st Team All-ASUN point guard Dylan Penn and CJ Fleming along with frontcourt players Ethan Claycomb and Nick Thelen. Newcomers are four freshmen including 2021 Kentucky Mr. Basketball Ben Johnson. Bellarmine made its NCAA Division I debut last season, compiling a 14-8 overall mark including a 10-game conference win streak that propelled them to a runner-up finish in the ASUN regular season standings. The Knights earned an invitation to a postseason tournament, playing in the 2021 College Basketball Invitational where they won their opener against Army but fell to eventual CBI Champion Pepperdine in the semifinals.
In the 2020 2K Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project presented by Continental Tire, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored a career-high 28 points in the Championship game, leading #3 Villanova 83-74 over #18 Arizona State. In the semifinals, the sophomore had 18 points, 10 rebounds, earning the tournament MVP award.
About the Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project
First played in 1995, the Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project presented by Continental Tire is acclaimed as college basketball’s premier early-season tournament. Featuring teams from across the nation, the Empire Classic annually attracts the top programs in the sport.
About Wounded Warrior Project
Wounded Warrior Project (@wwp) is the beneficiary of the Empire Classic. With the mission to honor and empower Wounded Warriors, WWP is the hand extended to encourage warriors as they adjust to their new normal and achieve new triumphs. Offering a variety of programs and services, WWP is equipped to serve warriors with every type of injury - from the physical to the invisible wounds of war.
About the Gazelle Group
The Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project is produced by the Gazelle Group of Princeton, N.J. The Gazelle Group is a sports marketing firm, specializing in event production and management, client representation, and sponsorship consulting. Gazelle produces numerous nationally-recognized events, such as the Legends Classic presented by Old Trapper, the Gotham Classic, the Sunshine Slam, the inaugural Holiday Face-Off, and the College Basketball Invitational. For more information on the Gazelle Group, please visit gazellegroup.com.
About the Northeast Conference
The Northeast Conference (NEC) is the sponsoring conference of the Empire Classic. Now in its 41st season, the NEC is a NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association consisting of 10 institutions of higher learning located throughout seven states. For more information on the NEC, visit the official website at www.northeastconference.org or follow on Twitter @NECsports.
About T-Mobile Arena
T-Mobile Arena, the 20,000-seat venue located on the Las Vegas Strip between Park MGM and New York-New York, opened April 6, 2016. The arena hosts more than 100 events annually including major headline entertainment, awards shows, UFC, boxing, basketball and other sporting events, family shows and special events. T-Mobile Arena also is the home of the Vegas Golden Knights, a National Hockey League expansion team and the city’s first professional sports team. The venue, named the No. 1 venue on Billboard Magazine’s 2018 Arena Power List as well as the “Best New Major Concert Venue” by Pollstar Magazine in 2016, features 50 luxury suites, more than two dozen private loge boxes, complete broadcast facilities, and other specially designed exclusive hospitality offerings and fan amenities destined to create a guest experience second to none. Toshiba Plaza, an adjacent two-acre outdoor entertainment space, features performance stages, a variety of video screens and other interactive content and display areas. Industry-leading architect Populous designed T-Mobile Arena to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards for LEED® Gold Certification. T-Mobile Arena is a privately funded joint venture between AEG and MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM). For more information, visit T-MobileArena.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.