INDIANAPOLIS – Jalen Suggs sank into a chair for Zoom’s post-game press conference and laughed. He leaned back and stared at the ceiling, the image of giddy disbelief at what he had just done. Immortality had come so suddenly that there was no time to process it.
“I don’t think it will fully get to me until I wake up in the morning,” said the Gonzaga freshman. “Oh my gosh, I’m stumbling. I still don’t think so at this point. “
Suggs had just joined Christian Laettner and Kris Jenkins among the best shooters in NCAA tournament history; maybe he even beat them to it. His cumulative 40-foot bomb to incredibly beat UCLA lacked Laettner’s win-or-lose desperation against Kentucky in 1992, as the game was tied. And it didn’t decide the national championship, as Jenkins’s shot against North Carolina did in 2016, as it was simply a Final Four semifinal. It was also a bit more fortunate, coming out of the glass instead of a clean snap.
But Suggs’s takeoff was longer and harder than both. He had an undefeated season. It will now be reproduced and recreated for decades in gyms, playgrounds, and backyards everywhere. This was the next epic shot in a tournament that has a remarkable ability to reliably produce goosebumps moments.
However, as wild as this particular tournament has been, so riddled with surprises and surprises, the only thing missing was a big winner. Alabama had a triple to the horn against UCLA at Sweet 16, but that was to tie and force overtime, after which the Bruins dispatched the Crimson Tide. It took until game 65 for one to finish with a shot that sent one team into ecstasy as it ripped out the other’s hearts.
This entire masterpiece of a breathless game will go on to become one of the greats in college basketball history. Gonzaga 93, UCLA 90, was vast and contained a multitude of memorable moments, most of which will be erased over time by the astonishing finality of the last shot. Having attended both this and Laettner’s decided Kentucky-Duke game, the similarities are striking.
Gonzaga, like Duke, was ranked No. 1 all season, favorite to win the national title and trying to make history: the Zags as the first undefeated champion in 45 years, the Blue Devils trying to be the first repeat champions. from UCLA in the early 1970s. Gonzaga, like Duke, was highly favored against a blue blood who had overcome considerable hurdles and was cast for the role of the unusual underdog: the Bruins as a No. 11 seed who barely came to the tournament; Kentucky as a rebuilding program after massive NCAA sanctions. Gonzaga, like Duke, ended up being pushed to the literal last second.
That ’92 game in Philadelphia turned into overtime. This one too. In the latter stages of the second half and for the additional five minutes, the loser simply kept taking shots and refused to fold, much to everyone’s amazement. At various junctures, a seismic disturbance seemed increasingly likely.
In both games, offensive execution and playmaking were extraordinary: Duke and Kentucky combined for 47 assists on 71 baskets; Gonzaga and UCLA combined for 47 assists on 71 baskets. Duke and Kentucky combined to shoot 60.7 percent; Gonzaga and UCLA combined to shoot 58.2 percent. In both games, there were complaints about the umpires helping the favorite: Laettner was not sent off for stepping on Aminu Timberlake’s chest, the Zags received several polite calls in the first half.
Duke had less time on the clock (2.1 seconds) but the benefit of a timeout to set up his last play: Grant Hill’s football pass to Laettner for the jump shot. Gonzaga had three seconds when Corey Kispert pulled the ball out of the net and passed it inside Suggs, who did all the heavy lifting thereafter, two left-hand dribbles, a cross on one more right-hand dribble and then in a pull-up not too far away. past the middle of the court.
In both games, the creator of the hero shot ended up running away from his teammates. Laettner turned and ran in the other direction of everyone in Duke’s uniform until they caught him. Suggs kept moving to his left as he watched the shot and then, as the incredibly fluid athlete that he is, he jumped onto the court once and a second time to the scorer’s table in front of Gonzaga’s fan section.
Johnny Juzang of UCLA, like Sean Woods of Kentucky, went from his own potential immortality to being the unfortunate preparer of something greater to come. Juzang, who was transcendent in this tournament, scored his 28th and 29th points for the night in a throwback from his own failure to tie the game at 90. Woods’ final shot of a 21-point night was a float over Laettner that rebounded on the glass and on.
The losing coach that night in Philadelphia was Rick Pitino, who did some of his best work giving his team a chance to win. The losing coach at Indy was Mick Cronin, a former Pitino assistant who refers to Rick as “a big brother.” There is no doubt that Cronin received a consoling call or text from Pitino on Saturday night.
Winning coaches conveyed confidence to their teams when they may not have felt it internally. Mike Krzyzewski told his Duke team in the group after Woods’ shot: “We’re going to win the game.” Few, whose team had won a succession of blowouts, told their players before overtime: “Hey, we’re good. We just have to keep making stops. We’re going to win this thing. “
Gonzaga-UCLA was closer than Duke-Kentucky. The Bulldogs and Bruins played an incredibly tense game throughout, with neither team leading by more than seven points at any time. The Blue Devils led the Wildcats 50-38 in the second half in ’92 before Kentucky rallied to make it a thrilling ride at the end.
In both cases, the thrill of an incredible sudden victory was slightly tempered by the knowledge that there is still work to be done to win it all. Duke ’92 had to go to the Final Four and win two more games, beating Indiana and Fab Five Michigan. Gonzaga must emerge from the pink clouds of euphoria Monday night and face a Baylor team that was overwhelming early Saturday.
For the Zags, the concern will be to climb another level in performance after a withering battle two nights earlier. Baylor had by far the easiest route until Monday night. Gonzaga had to strike again and again against UCLA, couldn’t get away and then needed a gutsy move from Drew Timme to step up and take over Juzang at the end of regulation. Even after taking a five-point lead in overtime, Gonzaga couldn’t stop UCLA from tying the game.
But Gonzaga had Jalen Suggs last. When he got up and fired, Few was not far from him on the touchline. “I was staring at him,” he said. “I was like, ‘That’s in.’ And went.”
Suggs will soon make millions of dollars in the NBA. But he may never have another night like this, when he and Gonzaga earned a place in NCAA tournament lore with a historic finale to an epic game.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.