Then it became disorienting to stop gasping and start figuring out the ending. Then coaches and players would greet each other with various levels of congratulation, consolation and confusion. Then the so-called losers of this national semifinal, those winners from UCLA, would trudge off the court with dazed expressions. Had Jalen Suggs’s storybook shot just smacked the backboard and dived right down to take a 90-90 donnybrook and tilt it, 93-90, to Gonzaga? Had the Minnesotan with a soaring future — and a present not so bad either — really charged across the court and hopped upon a table to revel like mad while everybody else tried to process the thing?
“I mean, it was nuts,” Suggs would say. “And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened.”
He had ample company there after a game of such quality that it took all its own ramifications and shoved them into afterthoughts. It somehow dwarfed the fact the Bulldogs (31-0) reached a perch none of the thousands of men’s college teams since 1979 had accessed. It made momentary minutiae of the fact that when Gonzaga tips off against Baylor on Monday night in the final of everyone’s daydreams, it will become the first team since Larry Bird’s Indiana State to do so with an unbeaten record of which most don’t dare daydream.
How could anybody mull all that when they’d just gotten done absorbing both a shot that called to mind Kris Jenkins’s ultimate winner for Villanova in 2016, but also a marvel of a play three seconds before that? That’s when UCLA’s Johnny Juzang, the revelation of this men’s NCAA tournament, had made another of his fearless attacks, missed and followed that miss to tie the game 90-90. That’s when Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert hurried the ball out of bounds and Suggs said, “ ‘Corey, Corey, come here,’ ” he said, “and I got as many dribbles as I can, tried to get as close as I can.”
A second overtime would come.
“What a great college basketball game,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few began.
“I just told them they’ve got to let the last shot go,” second-year UCLA coach Mick Cronin said of his players.
“Man, that is something you practice on your mini-hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around,” Suggs said.
“There’s no regrets,” Juzang said, “just everybody fought to the last play, and the last shot is the last shot.”
“It was crazy,” Few said of the locker room afterward. “Euphoric. Guys were happy as, you know, you could ever be.”
They had the adrenaline of having weathered the mighty in weathering the Bruins (22-10), those alleged Lilliputians from Los Angeles who had charged all the way from a beleaguered stage pretournament and from a No. 11 seed and from the hard wilds of the First Four to give the winner by far its most adamant task across its winning four-plus months.
They got 29 points from Juzang, the Los Angeleno who boomeranged to UCLA by transfer from Kentucky, and whom Suggs called “a special player” and of whom Few said, “Juzang is just a big-time player, hits big-time, tough shots.” They got a muscular 14 points and 10 rebounds from Cody Riley. They got 19 points from Jaime Jaquez Jr., including a three-point shot from the right corner with 48 seconds left in overtime that narrowed the score to 90-88. They got expert direction and repeated jolts of electricity from point guard Tyger Campbell, who had 17 points and seven assists. Having bested Michigan with defense 51-49 to get here, they almost bested Gonzaga with offense. In a masterpiece in which both teams hovered in the high 50s in shooting percentage, landing on 58.7 (Gonzaga) and 57.6 (UCLA), they got big play after big play to wipe out a 66-59 deficit and reach 81-81 by the closing of regulation.
All through, they managed to avoid the psychic and scoreboard damage dealt so many other opponents of a Gonzaga team that had won 27 straight games by double digits. They trailed only 45-44 at halftime, which accounted for a smallish victory worthy of a smallish trophy. They forced Gonzaga to explore its many options in the utmost show of its collaborative nature: Drew Timme with 25 points, including six in the post to start the overtime, Joel Ayayi with 22 and leadership, Suggs with 16 and six assists, Kispert with 15 points and five assists, Andrew Nembhard with 11 points, eight assists and a gutsy three-point shot with 75 seconds left in the overtime.
With each chunk of time that went by without getting smushed into the floor, the Bruins could sustain hope without delusion, until they drove Gonzaga to the verge of the springtime pain that has become a rude annual visitor after winters of hope across 22 straight March Madness berths. They even might have dredged a memory that one searing turn of that pain, in the 2006 Sweet 16, came from UCLA itself, which scored the last 11 points of a Gonzagan nightmare.
A ferocious fight of beauty against beauty carried on to the end of regulation. Juzang splashed down a three-point shot for a 77-75 lead with 2:57 left. Suggs hit a sweet 12-foot turnaround for 77-77 at 2:27. Suggs wreaked a multifaceted work of art when he blocked a Riley dunk and hurled a bounce pass downcourt to a charging 6-foot-10 Timme for a dunk at 1:55. Then Juzang hit a pull-up. Then Kispert made a second-chance basket. Then Jaquez made two free throws, all by the 0:43 mark. Then they stopped each other, including Timme’s draw of a charging foul on Juzang, until they went to overtime.
Then after Timme’s three shots and Nembhard’s shot and Jaquez’s three-point shot and Juzang’s follow, they headed for a second overtime.
Then suddenly, they didn’t.
“Oh god,” Suggs said. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
— Story by Chuck Culpepper
Jalen Suggs shines with sequence involving block and assist
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs gives up about five inches and 20 pounds to UCLA forward Cody Riley. But that didn’t stop Suggs from elevating to get a piece of Riley’s would-be go-ahead dunk in the final two minutes of regulation .
Suggs corralled the ball, led the break then weaved a pass to Drew Timme which pushed Gonzaga ahead.
With the teams tied at 81, Johnny Juzang had the ball in the closing seconds of the game but he was called for a charge as he drove to the rim. Gonzaga leads 87-83 in overtime.
Juzang reaches 20 points again, Campbell gives UCLA late lead
Johnny Juzang has now scored 20 points or more in eight games this season. Four of those games have come during the NCAA tournament. The sophomore, who also has five rebounds and two assists, has scored 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting.
The Bruins have a 71-70 lead over Gonzaga with 6:04 left to play after a Tyger Campbell layup.
Halftime: Gonzaga 45, UCLA 44
The top-seeded Bulldogs outscored 11th-seeded UCLA 15-8 to close the half and take a 45-44 lead in the second national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
A first half featuring 11 lead changes remained close throughout, with UCLA taking the largest lead for either team when Johnny Juzang sank a jumper to put the Bruins ahead by six with 4:34 left.
Juzang scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, and UCLA made 57 percent of its shots from the floor as the team controlled the pace and drained difficult shots to remain close and hold a slight advantage throughout the half.
Corey Kispert’s jumper put Gonzaga back on top four seconds before halftime. Joel Ayayi, who leads the team with 16 points, has made all six of his shots from the field. The Bulldogs made 60.7 percent of their shots in the half.
UCLA hanging with top-seeded Gonzaga early
UCLA led Gonzaga by as much as four about halfway through the first half. It’s controlling the pace against Bulldogs and making 50 percent its shots from the field and from three-point range.
The Bruins, who have slowed down the tempo, lead 27-25 with 8:25 remaining in the half.
How they got here: Gonzaga (30-0)
NCAA tournament results: Norfolk State, 98-55; Oklahoma, 87-71; Creighton, 83-65; USC, 85-66
Elite Eight: Leading scorer and rebounder Drew Timme took over early, scoring 11 of his game-high 23 points in the first eight minutes of an 85-66 rout.
Gonzaga, the nation’s top team throughout this season, has statistically been one of the best of all time.
Timme’s skill was on full display against No. 8 Oklahoma in the second round, where he scored a season-high 30 points and tied a season high with 13 rebounds — his fifth double-double this season.
Freshman Jalen Suggs returned to form against USC, nearly recording a triple-double (18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) to improve upon less-than-stellar showings earlier in the tournament. Forward Corey Kispert, the third member of the Bulldogs’ all-American trio next to Suggs and Timme, is one of the nation’s best three-point shooters, making 45.3 percent of his shots from distance.
Gonzaga, which boasts a 24-point average margin of victory during this year’s tournament, has won 29 of its 30 games by double-digits this season. Its closest contest was a five-point win over West Virginia on Dec. 2. The Bulldogs are looking to finish the first first perfect season in men’s college basketball since 1976.
How they got here: UCLA (22-9)
NCAA tournament results: Michigan State, 86-80; BYU, 73-62; Abilene Christian, 67-47; Alabama, 88-78; Michigan, 51-49
The Bruins have won more games in the tournament than they did in the final 40 days of the season. After a four-game losing streak that included an early exit in the Pac-12 tournament, No. 11 UCLA has become just the second First Four team to make the Final Four. VCU was the first when it won five games before losing to Butler in the 2011 Final Four. The Bruins await a more daunting foe in undefeated Gonzaga, which comfortably dispatched their rivals from Southern California in the Elite Eight.
The Trojans defeated UCLA on Feb. 6. Since then, Juzang has picked up his scoring and in recent weeks has lifted the team. After scoring at least 20 points once before the loss, he has done so six times since then, with three of those performances coming in the NCAA tournament.
He scored 23 points as the Bruins survived Michigan State in the First Four. Despite an ankle injury he suffered late in that game, he contributed 27 points against sixth-seeded BYU in the first full round, shooting 62.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range. Juzang made just 5 of 18 shots (13 points on 27.8 percent shooting) as the Bruins relied on other contributors including Jaime Jaquez Jr. to outlast No. 2 Alabama in overtime in the Sweet 16. Juzang is averaging 21.6 points per game in the tournament.
Gonzaga is facing both UCLA and UCLA’s history. By at least one stat, the Bulldogs stack up well.
Gonzaga’s Final Four matchup with UCLA on Saturday seems only apt, considering that the undefeated Bulldogs already are being compared to some of the greatest men’s college basketball teams of all time, among them John Wooden’s Bruins teams of yore. But figuring out a way to statistically compare modern teams with those from an era without a three-point shot or shot clock can be difficult.
Enter the Simple Rating System (SRS), which we can use to compare teams from different eras. In essence, a team’s SRS number represents how many points per game it would be better or worse than an average team from that season, after adjusting for strength of schedule.
An average team would have an SRS of zero. Gonzaga’s SRS entering the Final Four is 28.23. Here’s how that compares with the dynastic UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s, when the Bruins won 10 of 12 national titles, including seven straight from 1967 to 1973.
While Gonzaga has crushed its foes, Indiana had close calls on its way to perfection in 1976
INDIANAPOLIS — The 1975-76 Indiana men’s basketball team has lingered in conversation for so long as the last in the sport to go unbeaten that it can seem the Hoosiers must have been some impenetrable castle surrounded by a wide moat. Surely they won everything without too much tension. Their games must have been decisive enough that their fans would live just as long as they would have had they not followed them and spent winter nights doing something else, such as bowling.
Well, the funny thing about those Hoosiers (32-0) who went wire-to-wire at No. 1 is their dissimilarity to Gonzaga, which has gone wire-to-almost-wire at No. 1 this season and aims to equal Indiana at this Final Four. The Bulldogs (30-0) famously have won by double digits every time but one, which might not be fun for their victims but at least spares them walking around life wincing every now and then about the what-ifs. Regarding Bob Knight’s most famous team, it can be striking to anyone who didn’t live in Indiana or follow the team game by game to go poring into the details of game accounts.