Photo courtesy of Michael Conroy – Associated Press
What. A. Game.
Notice the lack of an “s” after the word game, because the first leg of the Final Four doubleheader was a complete dumpster fire. I think Baylor’s thrashing of Houston came somewhat expectedly, but a game that found itself a blowout after 5 minutes is supremely disappointing as a sports fan nonetheless.
There’s not too much to say about that one if we’re being completely honest, outside of the fact that Baylor was a superior squad in nearly every facet of the game. Star Davion Mitchell took a backseat to the red-hot Jared Butler in this one, making 4 of the team’s 11 3-pointers en route to 45.8 % shooting and a 78-59 thrashing.
In about as much contrast possible, Gonzaga vs. UCLA was the best game of college basketball that I have ever seen. As well as that, it contained the greatest buzzer beater that I’ve seen (granted I wasn’t alive for Laettner’s game-winner) by probable top-5 pick Jalen Suggs. Thankfully, this game wasn’t made or broken by the outcome of that shot, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
UCLA was maybe Gonzaga’s most unlikely foe thus far in their undefeated season, but they gave them the best run for their money without question. This was a battle from the tip, and the Bruins played as good of a game as possible. Defense was stout against the superstars that have come up so huge for the Zags in their run, and 12/18 for 29 from Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang made this not only close, but fun to watch.
While this one was back and forth throughout, Juzang and the Bruins had a fantastic scoring chance to end the game in regulation. An offensive foul and some poor clock management down the stretch gave the Zags a chance to redeem themselves.
And redeem themselves they did. The overtime period was some of the best basketball I’d ever seen. Despite just 16 points on what could be considered an off night, Jalen Suggs was the most important player in this game for Gonzaga, and there’s no better evidence of this than the final stretches in both regulation and overtime. With 2 minutes left in regulation, Suggs blocked a dunk attempt by Cody Riley, and heaved the ball up court to a breaking Drew Timme, a play that swung the momentum in favor of the Zags.
In overtime? Just the single greatest buzzer beater that I’ve ever seen in a college basketball game. After Johnny Juzang evened the score with just 3 seconds left in the game, Suggs took the inbound and pulled up from the logo to nail a bank shot, keeping Gonzaga’s hopes of a perfect season alive.
Heartbreaking for UCLA no question, but a game that will live on for years to come, in the same vein that Duke’s 1992 win over Kentucky has stood the test of time. Mark Few’s reaction was a simple shrug, and there’s no way to blame him, as there’s really no better expression for the poise with which that shot was hit.