“Oh, yes! Oh, yes! Unbelievable. Unbelievable. The perfect season remains on go.”
Jim Nantz raised his voice and couldn’t stop. Not after Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs’ 3-pointer from just inside half court banked in as time expired, giving the Zags a 93-90 overtime victory over UCLA in Saturday night’s second NCAA semifinal. At least he wasn’t alone.
It was, as Grant Hill said seconds later during the televised delirium, “a classic game with a classic finish.”
“There are onions, then there are major onions,” is how Bill Raftery described it, using his signature phrase.
Nantz and his CBS colleagues finally calmed down. And the veteran broadcaster was able to give what he had just witnessed some perspective.
“One of the great games in Final Four history,” he said.
What they saw …
• What Greg Gumbel called one of the greatest games of all time finished with a spectacular play. One that Suggs happily talked about with sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson after the court had cleared. And one that Mark Few professed to know the result.
“He’s just got this magical aura about him,” Few said about Suggs in the postgame interview. “I knew when he shot it, it was going in.”
You know who also seemed to know it was good? Suggs, whose replays seemed to show he was sure before the ball hit the backboard.
• None of it would have happened if not for a big play at the end of regulation by Drew Timme, one of many big plays both teams made in the final ticks of the clock.
Timme stepped in front of Johnny Juzang as time was expiring and picked up a charge that assured there would be an extra 5 minutes on the clock.
Then the sophomore made seemingly every offensive play in the extra period – except the last one.
“How about this guy,” Raftery said as Timme finished with a team-high 25 points, putting the Bruins defenders into a blender in overtime.
• Suggs has made big play after big play during the Zags’ perfect 31-0 season, almost all on the offensive end. But a couple of defensive possessions from the freshman – one negative, one positive – may have been as important as any all year.
Suggs turned his back and doubled Cody Riley in the post, leaving Juzang, UCLA’s leading scorer with 29 points, open for a key 3-pointer with less than 3 minutes left.
“Just one little mental mistake against a talented performer,” said Raftery as UCLA took a 77-75 lead.
But one thing is obvious about Suggs: He doesn’t let such things linger. Thirty seconds later, with the Bruins looking to build on the lead, Suggs came from behind to block Riley at the rim, then corralled the loose ball and threw a near-full-court pass to Timme for a dunk.
“What a tremendous block right there,” Raftery said. “Riley had two points but Suggs, making the extra effort, getting the block.”
“Those were the two biggest plays of the game,” Charles Barkley said afterward, “the block and the charge.”
• The refrain was the same throughout the runup. From Barkley through Raftery, CBS’ many analysts agreed on one thing: This one was going to be about tempo.
It was, though it was Clark Kellogg, who felt the Bruins had to score in the 70s to win, more than Barkley and Raftery, who expected the tempo to be slow. Actually they all were right.
The tempo wasn’t fast. But UCLA was as efficient offensively as Gonzaga, which may not have been part of the pregame chorus, though Hill did mention “to beat perfection, the Bruins must be perfect tonight.” They almost were.
If anything, UCLA followed a playbook written seven years ago by Wisconsin, the team that ended Kentucky’s 2014 attempt to duplicate Indiana’s 1976 feat. In the Badgers’ 71-64 semifinal upset of the 38-0 Wildcats, they were efficient offensively. More importantly, however, was their domination of the boards and their ability to limit Kentucky from beyond the arc.
Which is what the Bruins did, winning the rebound battle by five and limiting Gonzaga to seven 3-pointers, with the last two the biggest. Up until then, GU was 5 of 19 from long range.
Andrew Nembhard hit one with 1:15 left to give GU a five-point lead. The next one? Suggs’ last-second jumper.
What we saw …
• The Final Four may have a western accent, but the officiating had a decidedly eastern feel. As in the Big East. Two of the officials in the Gonzaga game, Jeff Anderson and James Breeding, work primarily in that conference. The third, Ron Groover, mainly officiates Atlantic Coast Conference games.
In fact, in the two games, only Arizona-based Chris Rastatter, mainly works West Coast contests.
If you didn’t know Groover was an East Coast guy, all you needed to hear was his announcement of a Flagrant 1 foul on UCLA’s Cody Riley with 12 minutes, 8 seconds left. The ensuing three points gave Gonzaga a 64-57 lead.
Then the game turned. And three calls had a huge impact.
With GU up 66-59, Ayayi missed an open Kispert ahead and instead, tried a short jumper. He missed for the first time all night. On the other end, Tyger Campbell hit his first 3-pointer.
Gonzaga missed and Ayayi had inside position on Johnny Juzang, who pulled him down. For some reason Groover called the foul on Ayayi. A Campbell free throw – Timme’s third foul, which became four 5 minutes later – cut the lead to 66-63.
With Timme out, the Zags went to Anton Watson, who made a Timme-like move. Jeff Anderson decided he traveled, though replays showed his pivot didn’t move.
Juzang hit a jumper on the other end and, with about 9 minutes left, the game was 66-65. UCLA had survived.