If you’re going to go down as one of the greatest teams ever, you might as well play in one of the greatest games ever.
And if you’re going to play in one of the greatest games ever, you might as well win it with one of the greatest shots ever.
After banking in a 40-foot buzzer-beater to give his team a 93-90 overtime win against UCLA in Saturday’s NCAA men’s tournament national semifinal, Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs said he couldn’t find the words to describe the moment. Don’t sweat it, Jalen. Not sure anybody else can, either.
Games like Saturday’s aren’t the type that typically produce postgame eloquence. They’re the type that produce raw emotion.
You want the most succinct synopsis of that Final Four classic? It likely came from LeBron James, who tweeted: “OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
What else can you really say?
On one end of the court were the top-seeded Zags (31-0), who are trying to become the first team in 45 years to complete an undefeated season in men’s college basketball. Not since early December had a team come within 10 points of beating them, and they’d won their four tourney games by an average of 24 points.
On the other end were the 11th-seeded Bruins of UCLA, who began their run as a play-in team, won two of their tournament games in overtime, then beat Michigan by two in the Elite Eight. They opened as 14-point underdogs, the biggest men’s Final Four spread in 25 years.
What followed was one of the most exciting, efficient and entertaining games in the history of hoops.
The pregame chatter from the CBS studio crew suggested Gonzaga was to UCLA what Joey Chestnut is to hot dogs. The Bruins quickly proved that wasn’t the case.
Yes, they hit an array of difficult shots, but they also controlled the boards. Yes, they benefited from Gonzaga forward Drew Timme’s early foul trouble, but also took excellent care of the ball.
Yes, at one point it looked as though the Zags were going to pull away when they took a seven-point lead in the second half, but as UCLA kept bouncing back, it was clear this was a battle between The Team That Can’t Be Stopped vs. The Team That Won’t Go Away.
Gonzaga was up 66-59 with 11 minutes left in the game, then down 73-70 with 5:15 remaining. UCLA’s Johnny Juzang would make a three-pointer to put his team up two with three minutes left, then Suggs would answer with a jumper 30 seconds later. Suggs would make a monster block on UCLA’s Cody Riley and zip a full-court assist to Timme, then Juzang would answer with another J. The game had 15 ties, 19 lead changes and one of the most memorable overtimes in tourney history.
At one point, it looked as though Gonzaga was going to finally establish its dominance in the extra frame, as Timme scored on three consecutive possessions. But the final five minutes essentially mirrored the first 40. Juzang tied the game at 90-90 with a layup with 3.3 seconds left, and then … magic.
Before Saturday, Suggs said his greatest sports moment was a high school football championship. That was replaced by what might be irreplaceable.
After receiving the inbounds pass from Corey Kispert, Suggs rushed down the court, pulled up from just past midcourt, banked in the game-winner then jumped on a table in celebration.
“I’ve always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe (Bryant) and D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) and go like that, and that’s the first thing I did,” Suggs said. “Man, that is something you practice on your mini hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it’s crazy.”
Although it wasn’t so crazy to Gonzaga coach Mark Few, who said Suggs regularly makes those kinds of shots in practice during late-game simulations.
Said Few of his star freshman: “Jalen has a magical aura. I knew when he shot it, it was going in.”
Recency bias often produces hyperbole, but it’s hard to think that game won’t be considered an all-time classic 20 years from now. Not just because of the lead changes, big plays and late-game heroics — but because of the aesthetic.
UCLA shot 57.6% and Gonzaga 58.7%. It was as pretty to watch as it was fun.
Now comes what many have considered the dream matchup all season: Gonzaga vs. Baylor in the NCAA final. Count on Suggs to relish the moment.
“When dreams start to become realities, and you’re able to experience those things, it’s special,” he said. “And those are things you’ve got to cherish. You’re never going to get another moment like this.”
That may go for the fans, too.