Midway through the Pac-12 Conference schedule, when only 2 teams — UCLA and Arizona — were considered locks for the NCAA Tournament, it was readily apparent that the conference was not in the upper echelon nationally. Even with 2 teams ranked in the top 8, the conference felt far from elite.

And here we are again.

For the 4th time in the past 5 NCAA Tournaments, not a single Pac-12 team advanced to the Elite 8. And for a conference that hasn’t produced a single College Football Playoff team since 2016, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

Here are a few other thoughts from what was a sensational Sweet 16 matchup, capped by an all-time 3 from Gonzaga’s Julian Strawther …

Gonzaga turns over a new leaf

Despite a huge start from Drew Timme and a first-half shoot percentage above 50% for Gonzaga, UCLA took a 13-point halftime lead.

Why? Turnovers after turnovers. The Bulldogs had 9 first-half giveaways, leading to 15 Bruins points. In the second half, with Gonzaga taking much better care of the ball, UCLA hit the wall, going scoreless for over 10 minutes at one point.

“I’d say we ran some really good sets to go at what we thought we could take advantage of, and we got some really good looks, and we just weren’t able is to knock ’em in,” UCLA’s Tyger Campbell said. “So I would say that our drought was due to us taking good shots and us not making them, that’s what I would say.”

Point man supreme

Speaking of Campbell, what a fascinating NCAA Tournament performance he just turned in. Campbell went a combined 7-of-32 from the field in 3 tournament games, including 2-for-10 from 3-point range, but he continued his thrilling passing. He finished his tournament with 26 assists and just 3 turnovers.

“Tyger Campbell, unbelievable career,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “You can’t get any more out of his body and his God-given things that he has that he can’t change. He totally maxes it out.”

Head held high

Despite a 27-4 regular season, plenty of naysayers emerged when Jaylen Clark injured his Achilles in the Bruins’ regular-season finale win over Arizona. How could UCLA possibly contend with the best in the country with one of the best defenders in the country done for the year? And when Adem Bona was injured in the conference tournament semifinals, the doubters were out in full force.

While the Bruins fell short in the Pac-12 Tournament and the Sweet 16, they can’t feel too bad about a combined 5-point differential.

“We addressed why we lost — we got outrebounded by 24. We had a tough whistle and our guards didn’t make a shot in the second half, (but) then I told them how proud I was of them because they didn’t flinch,” Cronin said. “I mean, you lose 2 of the best players in the Pac-12, defensive player of the year, freshman of the year, we still expect to win. And I’m happy because they still expected to win. And that we’re still upset that we lost. I had people say what a game we played against Arizona in the conference finals, thought you were going to get beat 25 without those 2 guys.”

Bulldogs’ comeback mirrors season

Ranked No. 2 in the AP preseason poll, Gonzaga suffered 3 losses by the second week in December, dropping them down to No. 18 — not exactly what Mark Few had in mind when he entered the season with a ton of returning talent.

But the Bulldogs rebounded and lost just twice in WCC play — by 1 point at home to Loyola Marymount and in overtime at No. 18 St. Mary’s — and Thursday’s win felt like a microcosm of Gonzaga’s season.

“We just got hit in the mouth and we just had to battle and fight,” Timme said. “And in the first half the ball just happened to be bouncing friendly to me. I felt I was hot. I just wanted to keep shooting. And in the second half, Malachi (Smith) really stepped up, Julian (Strawther) stepped up. (Anton Watson) was playing huge defense. We just rallied. I think that’s the story of this year.

“The first 20, as much as we might not like it to be, is probably not our best 20. But somehow, some way we dig deep and we find a way to come together and rally and keep fighting. And I think that’s the beauty of this team: We may be down but we’re not out.”

The Hawk flies again

Much of the attention on Thursday was on Timme, and rightfully so. Timme became the first player in college basketball history to record a 10th 20-point NCAA Tournament game, snapping a tie with 6 greats of the college game, including Corliss Williamson and Danny Manning.

But another superb senior was on the floor. In fact, Jaime Jaquez was all over the floor for the Bruins.

Like Timme, Jaquez found a way to score at multiple levels, finishing with 29 points to go with 11 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 assists.

“Jaime is one of the best 4-year players to ever play at the school with the best tradition and the most great players in the history of college basketball,” Cronin said. “And since Coach Wooden’s retirement, the freshmen became eligible he goes down with the guys who played 4 years, as good as any of them.”