INDIANAPOLIS — Jalen Suggs took the inbounds pass and saw nothing but clear sailing. Three dribbles. Past the midcourt line. A little stutter-step . . . and straight into history.
The Gonzaga freshman banked in a shot at the buzzer from near the Final Four logo for a 93-90 overtime win over UCLA on Saturday night that vaulted the Bulldogs to within one win of an undefeated season and the national title.
Talk about a perfect finish!
This thriller in the national semifinal was the best game of the tournament, and, considering the stakes, it served up possibly the best ending in the history of March Madness — a kiss off the glass from near midcourt to keep a perfect season alive.
"Stuff like this is something you dream of as a kid and that you practice on your mini-hoop," Suggs said.
Johnny Juzang’s putback with 3.3 seconds left tied it at 90 for UCLA, and Gonzaga coach Mark. Few didn’t call timeout. Corey Kispert collected the ball as it fell through the net and passed it in to Suggs to set the stage for a great shot.
After the shot banked 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 had gotten the shot off before the buzzer sounded. He had, and the Bulldogs moved to 31-0 and into Monday night’s final against Baylor.
They are the first team to bring an undefeated record into the championship game since Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979. Bird lost that game to Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Gonzaga could become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated.
"We were lucky enough to hit a 50-footer," Few said. "So it helps when you have a magical, special guy like Jalen, special at the end of games."
Even without Suggs’ shot, it would’ve been hard to beat this game for pure excitement — a welcome relief in a tournament that has produced mostly blowouts and duds, sort of like Baylor’s 78-59 snoozer over Houston earlier in the evening.
The nightcap 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 Few’s juggernaut.
Some might say it was the greatest game ever. Not UCLA coach Mick Cronin: "I’d say no because we didn’t win.’’
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 score tied at 81, Johnny Juzang (29 points) took it hard to the hoop in the final seconds. Zags forward Drew Timme (25 points), playing with four fouls, 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. It didn’t connect. Five minutes later, Suggs knocked Laettner’s famous catch-and-shoot against Kentucky in 1992 down a spot on the list of all-timers.
Turns out it’s a shot the freshman — who chose Gonzaga basketball over a chance to play Division I football — practices every day. "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."
UCLA stayed "stuck" on its nation-leading 11 titles, most of them won back in the ’60s and ’70s, when John Wooden was the coach.
"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."
Suggs now knows about true greatness. Said Gonzaga’s hero, "This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever been a part of."