INDIANAPOLIS – Three dribbles, 55 feet, and one of the biggest punches in the NCAA tournament and in Final Four history.
UCLA’s Johnny Juzang scored with 3.3 seconds left to tie the game and Gonzaga coach Mark Few chose not to call for time out. Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert grabbed the ball from the net while Jalen Suggs began to curl in the direction of the ball to catch it on the run.
Kispert tossed the ball to Suggs, who did three dribbles and rose to the 3-man from around 40 feet to give Gonzaga a 93-90 overtime win over UCLA at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday and the Bulldogs national Championship promotion on Monday game against Baylor.
Suggs pumped his fist in the air and sprinted to the goalscorer’s table when his teammates bullied him.
“I’ve always wanted to run on the table like Kobe and D-Wade and keep going and that was the first thing I did,” said Suggs, Gonzaga’s Star Guard. “Man, this is something you practice as a kid on your mini hoop or in the gym, just playing around. And being able to do that is crazy.”
The Zags’ search for an undefeated national championship season barely survived.
“It helps when you have a magical, special guy like Jalen,” said Few.
UCLA’s Cinderella run through the NCAA tournament nearly killed another victim when the 11-seed Bruins gave Gonzaga all they could and a few more. There were 19 changes in leadership, and the biggest lead for both teams was Gonzaga’s seven-point lead in the second half.
The Bulldogs had hardly been tested all season. 29 of their 30 wins on Saturday were in double digits. It was clear from the start that this would not be the case in the national semi-finals.
UCLA met Gonzaga basket by basket in the first half and even took a six point lead, with 4:55 left by half time. Bruins coach Mick Cronin again had a master class in game planning, which limited Gonzaga’s transition chances and refused to push the ball in quick pauses, even if the Bruins might have had an advantage. They lowered the shot clock with almost every possession of the ball and made hard shots all night.
Before his buzzer, Suggs had already made an argument for playing the tournament. With two minutes to go, he came from behind and blocked a simple basket Cody Riley. He held the ball in bounds and then pushed it up before threading the needle with a one-handed jump pass Drew Timme for a dunk. Instead of a two-point deficit, Gonzaga had a two-point advantage.
“I couldn’t give him a spare bucket,” Suggs said of Riley. “Either I wanted to find him on the line or play on the ball. I went to the corner, it was hard to get him. I got him. I saw Drew run and Tyger Campbell is fast. I wanted to throw it. It looked wide open. And as soon as I let it out of my hands it had like another gear. It made it a lot closer than I wanted it to be. I knew Coach might be a little pissed off that I made the pass, but it came through. “
“He’s a damn good player. I mean he’s electric,” few said of Suggs. “Especially if you get him out in transition. He’s confident enough. And to pass that on to Timme. When I saw him assess it, I didn’t think it would be one of the biggest decisions he’d ever made. But he is it.” I have a knack for simply fitting things into small windows. “
Juzang was once again brilliant for UCLA, continuing the stellar stretch he had at all NCAA tournaments. He was temporarily unguarded and finished the tournament with 29 points. For the fourth time in this tournament, he scored at least 23 points. And it looked like he was going to score another shocking win against a 1-seed late in regulation as he drove down the lane and whistled a 1.1 second lead. But instead of a fifth foul on Timme, it was an accusation against Juzang and five minutes left to play.
“”[Timme is] our best customer by far. I mean, I don’t know how I felt about four fouls, “few said.” But he took it, God bless him, and it was a big chunk. “
Timme was exceptional in extra time, scoring Gonzaga’s first six points to give the Bulldogs some breathing space. But as in the rest of the game, UCLA continued to fight and after a missed 3 by Corey Kispert had possession 22 seconds ahead.
Juzang drove the track and missed a runner, but got his own mistake and put it back to tie the score by 3.3 seconds. Gonzaga still had time off, but few weren’t going to take advantage of it. Suggs made one of the biggest punches in NCAA tournament history, sending the Zags to the title game on Monday night.
“I knew we were good because it was in Jalen’s hands,” said Few. “He’s taking pictures. He’s got this magical aura. He’s doing it all the time in the office. It was crazy this year how many he did in the office, last second shots. I felt pretty good. I did Staring right at it. And I said, “It’s in.” And it was. “
Suggs, a former high school soccer star, said his biggest athletic moment in college was a high school soccer championship in his senior year. He now has a new one.
“It increases by leaps and bounds,” said Suggs, who could hardly hold back his joy at the press conference after the game. “I mean, it was crazy. And I still can’t speak. I have so many things on my mind. I just can’t believe this happened. I don’t think it will really affect me until I wake up tomorrow up. Tonight was special. “
“When dreams come true and you can experience these things, that’s something special,” he later added. “And those are things that you have to appreciate. You will never experience a moment like this again. You will never be able to experience that again.”
Now, on Monday, we’re getting the game college basketball has wanted since the start of the season. We were denied the game at the beginning of December because of COVID-19: Gonzaga vs. Baylor.
It’s the first time since 2005 that the top two teams on the NCAA tournament’s 1-68 seed list face each other in a national championship game.
“I think now they are back to the way they were earlier this year,” said Few. “And so well trained. Raise, shoot. Play good defense. … We have to prepare for a great Baylor team. And we have to play great.”
Forty minutes to perfection and a place in history.