It’s over. The Baylor Bears defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs 86-70, wrapping up March Madness this past Monday for their team’s first national title. A disappointing defeat for Bulldogs fans who enjoyed a previously undefeated season. It was their first loss, ending their season in an anticlimactic fashion.
If it’s any consolation prize, their Final Four matchup with the UCLA Bruins two days prior had a dramatic finish and presented a bright spot in a lopsided tournament producing mostly blowouts.
That’s an understatement– it was arguably the GREATEST game in NCAA history.
So, lets revisit the thrilling final minutes of the game- a kiss of the backboard to cement young Jalen Suggs as an NCAA icon.
UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr rattled in two free throws with 43 seconds on the clock in regulation to tie the game 81 apiece. Gonzaga missed on the next possession meaning UCLA retains the last shot of regulation. Johnny Juzang confidently walks the ball up the court, almost too confidently. He refuses the ball screen with a quick crossover, a strong drive to the paint, OFFENSIVE FOUL! A last second heave from Gonzaga and UCLA has yet another overtime on their hands.
Madness at its best.
Gonzaga struck first in OT, with a quick and-one. On the other end of the court, UCLAs Cody Riley beat the shot clock with a bailout midrange jumper. It honestly felt like a Tug o’ war- two teams pitted against each other in a test of strength and endurance.
Every time Gonzaga seemingly had a sizable, multiple possession lead, UCLA managed to make a run of their own. Andrew Nembhard hit what appears to be a dagger step–back three, but UCLA smartly called a timeout to rejuvenate their own momentum. A chess game.
Pressure was building, and not just from the increased elevation of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
UCLA down by two with 18.9 seconds left and the shot clock turned off. Juzang dribbles out most of the clock, and quickly penetrates the paint for a quick floater. It hits the front rim and misses.
But WAIT. The ball bounces back to him for the easy put back. Tie Game. 90-90.
No more timeouts to advance the ball, so it was quickly inbounded to Suggs to catch the defense off guard. Three dribbles, a pull-up three from 40 feet, theoretically a “bad shot” to end a game to quote Paul George.
And it went in.
IT WENT IN. BALL GAME. BUZZER BEATER. FINAL SCORE: 93-90 Gonzaga.
It’s a shame a full crowd wasn’t there for an ending like this due to limited capacity from Covid-19, but the atmosphere was so competitive it felt like even the cardboard cutouts were cheering.
It’s also easy to sympathize with UCLA fans for this painful ending to their Cinderella Story. The game presented itself in total March Madness fashion: a back-and-forth affair of 15 ties and 19 lead changes. This is vindication of the type of heart UCLA played with. Three overtimes out of six games while being the consensus underdog can be demotivating. It takes two to tango, and they made Gonzaga earn it.
Things to take away from this matchup? Jalen Suggs will probably never have to pay for anything in the state of Washington ever again. He’s a household name now, etched in the history books, a surefire lottery pick in this year’s upcoming NBA draft.
Maybe we shouldn’t overanalyze the significance of this game and simply appreciate this unreal bank shot.
But in the words of NBA Hall of Famer Paul Pierce: “I didn’t call bank… I called GAME!”