Wow. Just wow.
The Gonzaga men’s basketball team advances to the championship game in the NCAA tournament after defeating the UCLA Bruins 93-90 in overtime on a buzzerbeater.
“I felt pretty good,” GU head coach Mark Few. “I was staring right at it and I was like, ‘that’s in,’ and it was.”
The Zags were coming off a dominating 85-66 win against the USC Trojans Tuesday, and GU’s big three scoring wise led to that victory. Sophomore forward and this season's Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Drew Timme finished the night with 23 points with a tough task of being guarded by USC freshman standout Evan Mobeley. The 2020-21 Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Corey Kispert complemented Timme’s 23 points with 18 of his own, along with another 18 points from freshman guard Jalen Suggs.
The Zags would be playing USC’s Southern California rival, an opponent in which not many had on the final weekend of the NCAA tournament. The Bruins came out and upset the No. 1 seed in the East, the Michigan Wolverines 51-49. Sophomore guard Johnny Juzang led the Bruins with 28 points, and guard Tyger Campell contributed 11 points of his own in the Bruins’ upset victory.
Redshirt junior guard Joel Ayayi came out the gate for the Zags scoring seven of the first nine points before entering the first media timeout. The Bruins responded with the Zags thanks to sophomore forward Jaime Jacquez Jr., who hit a three pointer before the end of the first media timeout to give the Bruins a 10-9 lead.
Jacquez Jr. continued his offense after finishing a drive in the lane and scoring a layup while being fouled, extending the Bruins’ lead to 19-15 with 11 minutes left in the half. Ayayi continued his successful scoring with another three pointer, but Juzang kept responding, as his three gave the Bruins a 27-25 lead with around eight minutes left in the half.
The Bruins controlled the pace of play in the first half, getting timely shots and making tough shots to keep up with the potent Bulldog offense. The Bruins shot 58% from the field and 57% from behind the arc in the first half while also outrebounding the Zags 14-11 in the first half. Juzang led the Bruins with 15 points at halftime, followed by nine points from Campbell, who got into foul trouble in the first half.
The Zags were able to get out to a one point lead at the end of the half after Kispert hit a jumper to end the half. With 11 lead changes in the first half, the Zags themselves were firing on all cylinders in the first half, shooting 61% from the field and 50% from behind the arc. While making the final four field goals in the first half, the Zags had three times as many points in the paint as the Bruins, out-scoring the Bruins 24-8. Ayayi led the Zags with 16 points, followed by eight points from Timme and seven points from Suggs and Kispert each.
The back and forth offensive action between the two teams continued at the start of the second half. The score was tied at 52 a piece when Suggs made an acrobatic layup to give the Zags a two point lead. Jacquez Jr. again responded with a three pointer, but layups from Ayayi and an and-one from Timme extended the Zags’ lead to four, 61-57, with 12 minutes left in the half.
With 7:25 left in the contest, the Zags made six of their last eight field goals, leading 69-67, highlighted by a monster poster dunk from Kispert. Kispert was later fouled and split a pair of free throws, and right on cue, Juzang rose over Suggs for a bucket, making the score 70-69.
Kispert hit a clutch three from the wing to give the Zags a 75-74 lead with 3:54 left in the game. In the remaining two minutes of the game, Timme drew a charge on Juzang, and the Final Four matchup would head into overtime tied at 81.
Timme came out the gate in overtime with three straight buckets, giving the Zags an 87-83 lead after a UCLA bucket. After another UCLA bucket, junior transfer guard Andrew Nembhard hit a huge three to give the Zags a 90-85 lead less than a minute to go in the overtime period. Jacquez and Juzang made a three and bucket respectively, tying the game up at 90. But with the last shot of the game, Suggs hit a game winning buzzer beater three to give the Zags a 93-90 victory.
“I got as many dribbles as I could to try and get as close as I could,” Suggs said. “... I just put it up and I was fading away with it, and dude, it went off the backboard and in. I’ve always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe [Bryant] and D-Wade [Dwayne Wade], and that’s the first thing I did.”
“That’s something that you practice on your mini hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. To be able to do that [hit that shot], it’s crazy.”
The Zags will now face the Baylor Bears Monday night to compete for its first national championship in school history.
The matchup everyone who loves college basketball has been waiting for all year is finally here.
What a game we have in store.