0-“March Madness-Championship Game”
Can you top that, that heart stopping, heart throbbing, take-your-breath away Gonzaga overtime win over UCLA on Saturday night.
The tiny Jesuit school from Spokane beating the mega university from Los Angeles in a game for your scrapbook.
What a night of college basketball between the unbeaten and top ranked Zags and the rags-to-riches Bruins, playing from the First Four of the tourney, into the 45th minute of the final Saturday night, and nearly pulling off the upset.
They ran the plays, pick and rolls, ball screens, back door cutters all night till you were exhausted watching. They hit jumpers from all over the arena, including the last second 45′ heave with 7/10th of a second left in overtime, before it was settled. It might have been the bank shot of all time in college hoops.
They pounded the ball inside in the paint. They rocked each other rebounding. They both shot 58% from the floor. It was no place for the timid.
19-lead changes…14-ties and the final bank-shot basket from near center court for the Zags to push that record to (31-0) and give themselves the chance to win the title the next time they play.
A frantic first half, matching three point shots. A rugged second half, driving to the paint, taking fouls, drawing fouls, and making amazing shots in traffic.
The first half was a ‘take no prisoners’ opening half. The second half was to see who would be ‘the last man standing’.
How many heroes can you have in a game?
UCLA’s Johnny Jurzang hit the putback of his missed layup with (1.0) left in overtime to tie it. Jalen Suggs, the fabulous Bulldogs freshman proceeded to launch the rocket that banked off the glass to win it.
There was UCLA’s Tyger Campbell banging home three point shots in the first half. There was Jaime Jaquez critical late game shots that kept his team in it. There was Chris Riley drilling threes from way out, shots he would never take in a game.
Heroes everywhere for the Zags too. Drew Timme, fighting thru four fouls, to make key baskets, and key rebounds. Corey Kispert muscling for balls at both ends, baskets and blocks, especially when Timme sat with fouls. And Suggs pulling off miraculous shots, a fade away jumper and blocking one late in the game to make sure they played into overtime. And little known Joel Ayayi burying threes early when UCLA actually pulled to a 7-point lead.
There was Mick Cronin, the Bruins coach, preaching-screaming-calling plays. Not bad for a guy who just a group of years ago was head coach at Murray State.
And Mark Few, matching Xs and Os, his team challenged for all 40-minutes, for the first time all season. His career record (630-124).
A remarkable run for UCLA considering how badly the season started, how badly it ended, to be where they were on Saturday night.
And for Gonzaga, think about the production line of great players who have worn their colors and then left for the NBA, only to see Few keep bringing in great talent, enroute to this (31-0) season after the (31-2) campaign a year ago.
For the record, Timme had (25)..Suggs (16)..Kispert (15) and Ayaui (22). The scorebook showed Jurzang and Jaquez with a combined (48) and Campbell adding (17)
So the Zags avoided the loss. Larry Bird and Indiana State had a perfect season but lost to Magic Johnson-Michigan State in 1979. Gonzaga is now where Indiana was in 1976, Kent Benson and the boys, who went (32-0), the last time it ever happened in college hoops.
When the last shot went in, I yelled so loud, it scared my Golden Retriever.
You come this way in life only once, and these two teams played the game of their lives. They left it all on the floor.
Can you top this, I doubt it.
It flashed back memories of Christian Laettner and Duke, or Jim Valvano and North Carolina State from decades ago.
It felt like a championship game. It was a classic for sure.
And what a place to see this, in the home of basketball, Indiana, the movie ‘Hoosiers’ and all that.
Oh by the way. There is another game to be played on Monday night, Gonzaga goes for the ring, the record, and the win against Baylor.
All seems anti-climatic after what we witnessed on Saturday night. That looked like the real championship game.