History is a funny thing, especially in this era of information presented in bite-sized chunks for maximum consumption. Just take a look at the NCAA’s “One Shining Moment,” a valiant attempt to distill all of the ups and downs of over 60 games, well over 2,000 minutes of basketball, into three-ish minutes.
Jalen Suggs, of course, made history. Suggs made the shot of a lifetime and one of the all-time great buzzer-beaters in NCAA Tournament history. It is the definitive shot of the NCAA Tournament, THE shining moment up to this point, and without a doubt, a regular occurrence in preview shows for years to come.
Biggest shot ever in the history of Gonzaga? Not worth arguing at this point. Just know that no matter what, it belongs in the upper echelons of memory, if not the top. Jalen Suggs is a hero.
There is no moment from Suggs unless the entire UCLA squad doesn’t play hero ball for 40-plus minutes. The UCLA Bruins officially did what no team had done to Gonzaga this season, maybe outside of West Virginia: make it a game for 40 minutes. The Bruins slowed down the pace, knuckled in on defense, and hit contested jumper after contested jumper. As they have done all tournament, UCLA elevated their game to match their opponents and did they come ever so close.
It can’t be one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games in history without both sides contributing to the cause. Although they fell short, Johnny Juzang, Cody Riley, Tyger Campbell, Jamie Jaquez, and all of their teammates are heroes.
Let’s talk about Joel Ayayi for a second. With UCLA matching the Zags punch for punch throughout the entire game, the soft-spoken guard, commonly thought of as the fourth-option a team featuring the antics of Drew Timme, the deadly range of Corey Kispert, and the sheer athleticism of Jalen Suggs, was a hero. The ball left Ayayi’s hands eight times and went into the hoop before he missed his first shot, a free throw with under three minutes left in the first half. His total up to that first miss: 16 points. Joel Ayayi is a hero.
What can we say about Drew Timme that hasn’t been said already? As has been the case all NCAA Tournament, the mustache show was on display. Timme finished with a team best 25 points off 11-15 shooting. He also did this while logging the lowest minutes of the starters (37) while dealing with foul trouble in the second half of the game. Timme also was the factor for ensuring there would even be overtime to begin with, sliding in to absorb the charge (with four fouls!!!) and send the game into overtime. Timme put all of his faith into the referees, a rather fickle bunch, and it paid off. Drew Timme is a hero.
Drew Timme draws the crucial foul with less than a second Left and stops 11 UCLA from getting off the potential game winning shot attempt and 1 Gonzaga gets the ball pic.twitter.com/2BZSkAJHzb— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) April 4, 2021
On virtually any other team, Andrew Nembhard would be the primary scoring option. His ability to disrupt offenses in the middle of the zone is uncanny. He is one of the craftier and smarter basketball players to role through Spokane, and his ability to complement the other guards’ style of play is what makes this whole offensive machine work so well. Nembhard finished with a “quiet” night of 11 points and eight assists. He made one three, probably the second-biggest one in the game, off of an absolutely beautiful stepback. Andrew Nembhard is a hero.
By Corey Kispert’s standards, his last two tournament games haven’t been up to the standard. Kispert’s sort of hit his average point total, but the 5-for-18 from three-point range is not what we’ve come to expect from the season. Take a look at this line, however, and you see why and how it works. Kispert finished the game with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists, one block, two steals, and one turnover. He hit a very important three late in the second half, but he also flashed this perfectly scripted cut to the hoop. Teams need plays like that to get energized. In a game that just ceased to settle down for a moment, that dunk was the one heard round the world. Corey Kispert is a hero.
Everyone is a little too critical of Mark Few at times. There isn’t a better past time than second-guessing a coach every step of the way, especially in tight games. After Juzang scored to tie the game and theoretically force a second overtime, as the Zags raced down the court, most coaches would call a timeout to hopefully draw up the winning play. Knowing that much of UCLA’s gameplan throughout had been to race back on the defensive end to set up, Few trusted his players to make the right decision, saying in the press conference afterward: “I don’t like to call timeout in that situation, because I think you can make an open-court play better before they set up their defense.”
He wasn’t wrong. With Suggs racing up the floor and the UCLA defense not set up in a fashion to properly defend against the three-point shot, the heave was a better look than probably what would be drawn up as a play against a set defense with two seconds left on the clock. In a split-second, Mark Few made a decision that only turned out correct because the shot went in. Mark Few is a hero.
The result of all this heroism, on both sides of the ball, is the Gonzaga Bulldogs in their second championship game in four years. The Zags are now 2-0 in the Final Four, and after having lived through one of the guttiest victories in school history on the biggest (literally) stage possible. One more win. 40 minutes from glory. Go Zags.
Need some new Gonzaga swag? Celebrate this beautiful NCAA Tournament run with some gear officially licensed by Gonzaga University from BreakingT. Wear the moment, because these shirts will only be available for a limited time.