Gonzaga advances to national championship on Suggs’ half-court heave

The Bulldogs move to 31-0 on the season after beating UCLA 93-90 in OT of the NCAA Tournament's Final Four.

INDIANAPOLIS — A back-and-forth duel between No. 1 Gonzaga (31-0) and No. 11 UCLA (22-10) finished on a 3-point heave just beyond the halfcourt line by NBA Draft prospect Jalen Suggs. The Bulldogs are headed back to the NCAA Championship for the second time in program history behind an incredible effort from its starting rotation.

Though Suggs stole the show with his incredible shot, it was sophomore Drew Timme’s 25 points that led the Bulldogs past a competitive UCLA team that took two other opponents to overtime during the tournament.

He shot an efficient 11-of-15 from the field and contributed four rebounds and two assists as well. He drew a crucial charge with just seconds left in regulation after sitting with four fouls to start crunch time.

Timme scored the first six points of overtime for his team and battled on defense against a physical and crafty matchup in UCLA’s Cody Riley (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Each of the Bulldogs’ starters finished in double-figure scoring with four players taking at least 12 shots. Suggs finished with a loaded stat-line — 16 points, five rebounds, six assists, two steals and a momentum-shifting blocked dunk in overtime that led to a fastbreak dunk for his team. Suggs struggled early in the contest, but came up clutch when Gonzaga needed it most.

Despite the win, this was arguably the program’s greatest test up to this point in the postseason. The Bulldogs played their signature brand of inspired basketball sparked by a dedication to unselfish ball movement. However, the team failed to cash in on its 3-point looks, hitting just a third of its 21 attempts from deep. They also struggled from the free-throw line, making just 12 of 20 attempts, and lost the rebound margin by six.

Gonzaga managed to assist on 25-of-37 made field goals in the contest and held on late to compete for all of the glory.

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A proactive early effort from UCLA put the Bulldogs on high alert. By slowing down the game and playing at a slower pace, the Bruins put Gonzaga in an unfamiliar position in the halfcourt. With methodical execution, the back-and-forth battle saw 10 lead changes and five ties in the first half. Guard Joel Ayayi was the driving force of Gonzaga in the half, scoring the team’s first seven baskets en route to a perfect 16 points on 6-for-6 shooting. He finished with 22 points, six boards and two steals in the contest.

Referees seemed to welcome contact early in the game as Gonzaga didn’t get to the free-throw line until Ayayi scored an and-one layup off of a nifty cut from Andrew Nembhard (six assists in the first half). To make matters worse for the Zags, Suggs didn’t convert his first field goal until the 7:25 mark in the first half.

A rough effort from Suggs early was balanced out by a ‘full-steam ahead’ approach by Drew Timme, who put his body and heart on the line to make defensive plays, get his teammates involved and finish the half on a 15-8 run capped by a pull-up, mid-range jumper by Corey Kispert (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, two steals). At that point, Gonzaga regained a one-point lead, which it took into halftime.

UCLA’s sophomore guard, Johnny Juzang ignited early with 15 points including two triples in the opening half. He finished his trip to Indianapolis with a 29-point effort.

Gonzaga will compete in the 2021 NCAA D1 men’s basketball championships on Monday, April 5 against another No. 1 seed in the Baylor Bears.

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