By: Lamonte Thomas
Headline Photo Courtesy: Gonzaga MBB Twitter Page
This game is what happens when the expected met the unexpected. Gonzaga entered this game as the only undefeated team in college basketball; looking to become the first team to ever win the championship with that feat in the 64-team field. UCLA has been everyone’s favorite bracket buster, going from a play-in tournament game to the final four, upsetting Michigan in the elite eight. The 11th ranked Bruins were led byJohnny Juzang, who continued his hot streak from the last game with the opening long jumper for two. Joel Ayayi scored the first seven points for Gonzaga, and the two teams embarked on a battle that would land in NCAA history. Drew Timme got established early with a few buckets for the Zags, displaying incredible footwork and strength that gave UCLA problems all night. After the Bruins led by as many as four, Ayayi converted a bucket and a foul to reclaim the lead for Gonzaga at the 10-minute mark in the first half. There would be 11 lead changes before UCLA went up six on a turnaround jumper from Juzang. The Ayayi-Timme combo continued for Gonzaga, as they assisted on each other’s baskets to narrow the lead to 36-34 with just under four minutes remaining in the first half. Gonzaga’s sensational freshman Jalen Suggs (The basketball/Football standout from Minnesota) nailed a three from deep to tie the game at 43 before Corey Krispert gave the Zags a one-point lead at halftime 45-44 over UCLA.
The second half was nothing more than a countdown to glory. Cody Riley embraced the challenge from Gonzaga’s big man Timme, as the UCLA forward hit a few jumpers and found cutting players to the basket for easy buckets. Timme battled back with two baskets of his own. Ayayi did it all for Gonzaga, using active hands to create steals to go along with his 22 points and six rebounds. UCLA went down 64-57 behind Drew Time’s dominance, until Juzang scored an easy bucket to keep them in the fight with over 11 minutes left in the game. Juzang and the Bruins came within one point of Gonzaga before Ayayi found Krispert on a beautiful cut, in which he delivered a two-handed finish over UCLA’s Singletary. Tyger Campbell gave UCLA the lead 71-70 with just over five minutes to play; the hesitation, up and under move looked like poetry in motion as Campbell scored two of his 17 points— which accompanied his team-high seven assists. A couple of threes were exchanged between Juzang and Krispert, followed by a one-foot jumper by Suggs to tie the game at 77. Jalen Suggs then embedded himself in a March Madness legendary tale.
Just two minutes left in the game, Suggs stuffed Cody Riley at the basket, then dished a remarkable dime from near half-court to a cutting Drew Timme, giving Gonzaga the lead 79-77. Then with the game tied at 81, the two players with the best performances from each team met in the paint— UCLA’s Johnny Juzang went to the basket where Drew Timme got the position and took the charge for Gonzaga. The Zags’s baseball pass with one second left was intercepted, sending the thriller to overtime. Timme and Riley each scored a few buckets apiece in the OT period— and as the clock ticked down to one minute, Gonzaga’s Junior guard Andrew Nembhard found space for a three; giving him 11 points to go with his game-high eight assists. Down 90-85, Jaime Jacques Jr connected a three, giving UCLA a chance. Juzang would strike clutch for the Bruins once again, tying the game on a putback layup with three seconds left! Then the impossible happened. The ball was inbounded to Jalen Suggs, who desperately hard dribbled past half court where he planted hisfeet and shot a concentrated, buzzer-beating beauty. The ball traveled in the air for what seemed like an eternity— it banked off the glass in front of the red-lights that signified there was no time remaining. As it went through the net, UCLA personnel fell to their knees, and the Gonzaga hopeful lit up with triumph! Gonzaga advanced to the Championship game vs Baylor, final score 93-90.