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Analysis: Freshman phenom Jalen Suggs’ 40-foot buzzer-beater sends Gonzaga into championship game

INDIANAPOLIS – Tie score, 3.3 seconds left, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs took the inbounds pass, raced past the midcourt line with three dribbles and hit the biggest shot in program history.

It instantly became a candidate for the biggest nontitle game shot in NCAA Tournament history.

And it put an end to one of the most memorable March Madness games in recent history.

Suggs turned March Madness upside down by banking in a 40-footer that handed the top-seeded Zags a pulsating 93-90 overtime victory over UCLA on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“So I’ve always said a football game, section championship my senior year, was my greatest sports moment I’ve been part of,” Suggs said. “It skyrockets above that. I mean, it was nuts. And I still can’t speak.

“I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened. I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I wake up tomorrow.”

Imagine how Gonzaga fans felt during an intense, drama-packed affair with the 11th-seeded Bruins, who looked more like a top seed than 14-point underdog.

Suggs’ game-winner sent the Zags (31-0) into Monday’s championship game against No. 1 seed Baylor – the matchup college basketball fans have been clamoring for since their Dec. 5 meeting in Indianapolis was called off because of COVID-19 concerns in Gonzaga’s program.

Suggs made the most of the 3.3 seconds he had to work with. UCLA’s Johnny Juzang, who put on a show himself with a game-high 29 points, had just tied the score with a putback of his own miss.

Suggs maneuvered just inside the half-court line, pulled up in front of UCLA’s David Singleton and broke the Bruins’ hearts.

With teammates in hot pursuit, Suggs hopped into the air after the shot dropped in and then jumped up on a courtside table, celebrating in front of a section of Gonzaga fans that included his family.

Stunned Bruins players filtered toward their bench, some with hands interlocked on top of their heads in disbelief.

“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 that 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.”

UCLA coach Mick Cronin compared Suggs to Wade during his Zoom press conference on Friday.

The Zags haven’t been pushed to the limit by any opponent this season and there were some who wondered how the nation’s top-ranked team would respond in a game where every point, possession and play was important.

Turns out, just fine. The only problem was UCLA nearly matched the Zags haymaker for haymaker down the stretch.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few considered using a timeout but felt better about not using one with the ball in Suggs’ hands.

“We haven’t had many games like this, but we’ve worked on it a lot,” Few said. “We probably work on more end-game situations this year than I ever have just because I knew we needed that.

“And he (Suggs) makes shots. He’s got that magical aura. He makes them in practice all the time. It’s been crazy this year how many he’s made in practice on last-second shots. I felt pretty good. I was staring right at it. And I said it’s in. And it was.”

Neither team could gain separation. UCLA’s biggest lead was six in the first half. Gonzaga went up by seven in the second half, but the Bruins fought back.

UCLA had a chance late in regulation with the score tied at 81. Juzang drove inside but ran over Drew Timme, who had four fouls. Juzang was called for a charging foul, sending the game to overtime.

Timme took over, scoring the first three baskets to put Gonzaga in front 87-83.

The Zags led 90-85 after Andrew Nembhard’s clutch 3-pointer with 1:15 left. Jaime Jaquez Jr. nailed a 3 and Juzang’s putback knotted it at 90, setting the stage for Suggs.

“Coming from the First Four game to the Final Four, putting up the fight they gave us, they deserve all the credit in the world,” Suggs said. “That team is special, but I don’t think we lost our identity all night.

“We came out a little slow, but it’s the Final Four and teams are going to make runs.

“They’re here for a reason. But we stuck together, kept turning on offense and kept it moving and stuck with it, man. It turned out to a great team win.”

Added Few: “Obviously at the end of it, you could tell how both staffs and all the players reacted that it was an all-timer.”

Timme had 25 points, Joel Ayayi scored a career-high 22 and Suggs had 16. Nembhard finished with 11 points and eight assists. Kispert added 15 points.

Gonzaga made 58.7% of its shots while the Bruins finished at 57.6%.