The UCLA Bruins was the biggest challenge to the Gonzaga Bulldogs, almost tarnishing their undefeated record. Their Final Four bout went into overtime where freshman guard Jalen Suggs sank a three-point shot from half court to win the game. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few mentioned how Suggs land clutch three-pointers frequently in practice.
“I knew we were good because it was in Jalen’s hands,” Few said. “He makes shots—he’s got that magical aura.”
Suggs hit the shot with one second left in regulation. UCLA sophomore guard Johnny Juzang hit a layup two seconds prior. UCLA head coach Mick Cronin knew he had no timeouts, so Cronin to communicate quickly.
“I was running at my guys to get their to get their attention to trap the ball,” Cronin said. “I got to their attention late and they came to him late.”
UCLA competed relentlessly from tip-off, gaining the first possession of the game. Gonzaga junior guard Joel Ayayi scored the first seven points, relying on points in the paint. UCLA fired three pointers to keep their dominance in the first half. Bruins Sophomore guard Tyger Campbell knew how to poke holes in the Gonzaga defense, ultimately scoring 17 points and 7 rebounds. With less than nine minutes left in the first half, he picked up two quick fouls and was subbed out.
“Maybe a big key to the game was when we had the lead, had the game the way we wanted and he goes out with his second foul … that didn’t help us,” Cronin said. “We were able to get to half falling down one, but maybe if he doesn’t go out and we get to half up five or six.”
UCLA sophomore Johnny Juzang was a reliable shooter during the lead switching thriller. With four minutes left in the first half, his lay-up pushed the Bruins up to a six-point advantage. With seconds left in the second half, Juzang drove to the basket to score, Drew Timme quickly ran up to take the charge; this gave Juzang a foul instead of free throws. Cronin called it “the hardest play in the world for an official.”
“Obviously, I was hoping they’d call blocks that the end of the play,” he said. “If I see the film and it looked like the guy was moving then sometimes things aren’t meant to be.”
Juzang led all scorers with 29 points while chipping in six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
“[Juzang] is a special player. He is. No other way to put it; an offensive talent,” Suggs said. “I tried to stay solid, he took a lot of tough shots. That’s what great players do.”
Four UCLA players scored in the double digits, including junior forward Cody Riley who scored 14 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Jaime Jaquez jr. Attacked the paint to draw fouls, ultimately scoring 19 points, five rebounds and four assists.
“He gave us a fighting spirit that we needed last year,” Cronin said. “He’s the guy that he plays so hard everyday, he’s one of those guys that he raises everybody else’s level of intensity.”
After Suggs sank the game-winning shot, UCLA huddled up before leaving the hardwood. Juzang noted that the players did not want to have their heads down in the wake of the defeat.
“Everybody is so proud to play with each other and play for these coaches,” Juzang said. “We went out fighting, there’s not better way, there’s no regrets.”