INDIANAPOLIS — The shot by Jalen Suggs? Perfect.
The Gonzaga freshman banked in a shot at the buzzer from near the half-court logo Saturday night to lift the Zags to a 93-90 overtime win over UCLA and move them one win away from an undefeated season and a national title.
This Final Four thriller was the best game of the tournament, and, considering the stakes, it served up possibly the best finish in the history of March Madness — a banker from near midcourt to keep a perfect season alive.
What should come as no surprise from a team this good: It’s a shot the Zags practice all the time.
“Every day in shootaround before the game we shoot half-courters,” Suggs said. “I haven’t been making my half-courters, but I got it with confidence, put it up. It’s crazy. I can’t come to words right now.”
After the shot went in, Suggs ran to the mostly empty press row, jumped up on the table, pumped his fists, and let out a huge yell to the crowd of 8,000-or-so socially distanced fans. The refs checked to make sure he got the shot off before the buzzer sounded. He did, and the Bulldogs moved into Monday night’s final, where they’ll play Baylor for the title.
They are the first team to bring an undefeated record into the championship game since Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979.
Even without Suggs’ shot, it would’ve been hard to beat this game for pure excitement. With it, was it the greatest game ever?
“I’d say no because we didn’t win,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said.
Still, it featured 15 ties and 19 lead changes, and an 11th-seeded UCLA team that simply wouldn’t give in. Even though they lost, the Bruins snapped a streak of 27 straight double-digit wins by Mark Few’s juggernaut.
UCLA (22-10) was the first team to lead Gonzaga in the second half over five games of tournament play and, in fact, had a chance to win at the end of regulation.
With the game tied at 81, Johnny Juzang was taking it hard to the hoop in the final seconds, when Zags forward Drew Timme, playing with four fouls, stepped into the paint, planted his feet and took a charge.
Gonzaga called time and tried a Grant Hill-to-Christian Laettner full-court pass with 1.1 seconds left to try to win in regulation. It didn’t connect. Five minutes later, Suggs may have very possibly knocked Laettner’s shot down a spot on the list of all-timers.
“We made a lucky one at the end, but I’m just telling you he makes those ones all the time in practice,” Few said. “He’s just got this magical aura about him. I knew when he shot it it was going in.”
Before that, Suggs’ best play might have been his rejection of Cody Riley (14 points, 10 rebounds), who looked to be going in unhindered for a dunk that would have put UCLA up by two at the 2-minute mark. Suggs got the block, then fed Timme for a dunk that instead gave the Zags the slight advantage.
UCLA deserved better than this.
The Bruins went toe-to-toe all night with the top-ranked team in the country. This was their third overtime out of six games in the tournament — they played an extra one in the First Four — and they never trailed by more than seven. They got everything they could have dreamed of on a magical night of college hoops. Everything but the win.
The Bruins stay “stuck” on their nation-leading 11 titles, most of them won back in the John Wooden days.
“I just told them, ‘We’ve got to let that shot go,’” Cronin said. “We won. I sit in coach Wooden’s seat. When you sit in his seat, you have to channel the things that he taught. True greatness is giving your best effort.”
Who would dare say they didn’t?
Juzang had 29 points for the Bruins, including a 15-footer with 1:27 left in regulation that helped them claw back from seven down to tie it at 79.
Jamie Jaquez Jr. was also unintimidated by Gonzaga. He handled Timme’s inside pressure all night, scoring 19 points. Jaquez’s two free throws tied it at 81 with 43 seconds left.
It looked like it would be Timme’s overtime. He dipped and ducked for Gonzaga’s first six points of the extra session and an 87-83 lead that felt like breathing room in this one.
But Cronin called a timeout and UCLA chipped away again.
Juzang’s putback with 3.3 seconds left tied it at 90. Few didn’t call timeout, and Suggs took the inbound pass and had clear sailing to the half-court line — and into the all-time highlight package.