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INDIANAPOLIS — Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs took an inbounds pass with 3.3 seconds remaining, took three dribbles and pulled up just past half-court.
Suggs banked in a shot from nearly 40 feet as time expired in overtime and kept alive No. 1 Gonzaga’s perfect season (31-0) with one of the most astonishing finishes in NCAA history. No. 11 UCLA was attempting to become the first double-digit seed to reach the NCAA title game.
Instead, Gonzaga answered Johnny Juzang’s putback layup to tie the game in the waning seconds of overtime with a shot that will long reverberate in NCAA lore.
The buzzer sounded as the ball soared in the air and the red lights of the backboard were lit as the shot caromed through. It ended with Gonzaga banking it in, 93-90.
Suggs leapt in the air once and then hopped on the scorer’s table before being mobbed by his teammates, a move he later said was done to mimic LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
“We were lucky enough to hit a 50-footer,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “So it helps when you have a magical, special guy like Jalen.”
Suggs' pull-up buzzer-beater over UCLA’s David Singleton will be replayed with the same frequency as those of Indiana’s Keith Smart, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins and Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew as among the most memorable shots in NCAA history. It also came with huge stakes, as the Zags are still chasing the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to become the first team to go undefeated in more than four decades.
“That is something that you practice on your mini hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around,” Suggs said. “And to be able to do that, it's crazy.”
And Gonzaga needed Suggs more than once on Saturday night to save its season. Along with the 40-foot bank, he delivered a block of UCLA 6-foot-9 center Cody Riley, corralled his own rebound and delivered a one-bounce pass to Drew Timme for a dunk with just under two minutes remaining.
The sequence prevented UCLA from taking the lead with a point-blank look at the rim, gave Gonzaga the lead and provided perhaps the biggest momentum swing of all regulation.
Suggs finished the night with 16 points, six assists and five rebounds. Timme led Gonzaga with 25 points, and Suggs' miracle shot overshadowed perhaps the most important charge ever drawn in NCAA tournament play. With less than a second remaining in regulation, Timme took a charge on UCLA’s Johnny Juzang.
The call by official Ron Groover appeared to be the correct one, and may well be remembered as the crescendo of him playing the waning four minutes of regulation with four fouls. The charge forced overtime with the game tied at 81.
The victory continues Gonzaga’s wild run to NCAA history, but the plucky Bruins provided the biggest test. The game featured 15 ties, 19 lead changes and neither team led by more than seven points the entire way. UCLA played in three overtimes, tying the 1975 Syracuse team for the most in NCAA history. UCLA’s run began with an overtime win over Michigan State in the First Four and ended a whisker short of becoming the highest seed to ever play for the title. (Three No. 8s had made it prior — Villanova in 1985, Butler in 2011 and Kentucky in 2014.)
Gonzaga advances to the national title game against fellow No. 1 Baylor, which dispatched Houston in a dreamless semifinal matinee that didn’t deliver a dollop of intrigue. It will be one of the most anticipated title games in NCAA history, as only nine matchups of No. 1 seeds have happened in the NCAA final since seeding began in 1979.
UCLA and Gonzaga made up for the lack of drama, with Juzang’s 29-point effort in defeat one of the gutsiest of this or any NCAA tournament. He and the Bruins feasted on a bevy of guarded mid-range shots, the exact type that modern basketball players are discouraged to take.
One game after stunning No. 1 Michigan by holding them without a field goal for the last five minutes, UCLA did a similar job stifling Gonzaga from ever breaking out in their hallmark transition game.
Instead, UCLA lost in the most heartbreaking way possible.
“I was staring right at it,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “And I was like, ‘That’s in.’ And it was."
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