By, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
Watching Gonzaga take down UCLA 93-90 in overtime on Saturday night in Indianapolis was special. I get goosebumps thinking about how good this Gonzaga team is, and just how good they needed to play to knock off a high flying UCLA team who defied all odds as an 11 seed.
When Jalen Suggs’ bank shot went down at the buzzer, I jumped out of my seat just like the millions of other people who witnessed it. That rush of adrenaline lasted several minutes and it took me quite a while to even think about sleep in the after hours of that shot. After the adrenaline finally went down, my family and I savored every aspect of the game and couldn’t stop talking about it. Although we tried, there were no words to really describe what we saw, other than that we had just witnessed history.
The historical relevance was teeming out the television screen. The game featured the second best combined field goal percentage in tournament history at 58.5 percent, and was capped off with a game-winning buzzer beater. As fans, you couldn’t ask for a better game — unless you had a rooting interest in UCLA.
My family have been big Villanova basketball fans dating back to when my older brother was a freshman at the school. I’ll never forget the game that first solidified our interest in the program back in November 2013. It was right around Thanksgiving when Villanova knocked off a loaded Kansas team led by future NBA stars Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. Looking back, it’s easy to point to that game as the start of a glorious run for the Wildcats over the past decade that included national titles in 2016 and 2018.
At least in my lifetime, the only real comparison to the Suggs shot from the other night is the Kris Jenkins shot in 2016 which won Villanova the championship over North Carolina. In both instances, we were left speechless, and Bill Raftery was there to say it best: “Onions!”
It’s almost impossible to find a better shot than— in the words of Jim Nantz—“Jenkins for the championship.” That’s especially true when remembering the one-legged, miracle shot that Marcus Paige hit just moments before that tied the game and set the stage for the greatest moment in Villanova basketball history.
After watching Gonzaga beat UCLA in the fashion that they did, there now seems to be a debate for what was the better shot. The Jenkins shot should get the edge, but not by much. When comparing the overall sample from both games, UCLA and Gonzaga are the winners because what we saw on Saturday night was literally one of the greatest college basketball games ever played, and that’s not an exaggeration.
It even made Twitter go bonkers for something positive for once.
The tapestry of headlines that loomed over this game made it all the more memorable.
For starters, the collection of talent on display was incredible. It’s hard to find a college game with more NBA talent assembled than that matchup between Gonzaga and UCLA.
Jalen Suggs vs. Tyger Campbell. Drew Timme vs. Cody Riley. Johnny Juzang vs. Cody Kispert. Joel Ayayi vs. Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Those positional matchups were a blast for fans, and probably even more addictive for scouts who get paid to evaluate them.
Then there was the underdog mentality of UCLA, who became only the second team in tournament history to reach the Final Four after starting out in the First Four. The Bruins were a bubble team, so it’s no exaggeration when just about everyone said they shouldn’t have been there. On the other hand, Gonzaga, regardless of what happens against Baylor on Monday Night, has already solidified their spot in the pantheon of the greatest college basketball teams led by the likes of 1975-76 Indiana, Phi Slama Jama and other historic teams.
In short, UCLA was the David to Gonzaga’s Goliath. Although they ultimately couldn’t pull it off, UCLA did everything in their power which is all anyone can ask for.
You can’t forget the backdrop either, with the season having been played under extraordinary circumstances. A few months ago, there were still doubts whether March Madness would be playable as many teams dealt with their own COVID-19 problems. Now, here we are one game away from completing the season, much to the delight of all who love this tournament.
The jobs done by the NCAA, hundreds of university administrations, the teams and support staff have been heroic to make it all possible.
When Gonzaga and Baylor take the court on Monday night, it will be the Bears who get their shot at taking down the undefeated Bulldogs. Baylor is no slouch themselves, but it will be tough to do better than the figurative punches UCLA dealt Gonzaga.
Most importantly, Saturday night and the past two weeks have provided normalcy to some extent, and that will likely be the case again on Monday night. This country couldn’t afford another year without March Madness and the beautiful moments it gives us.
Thank you for the memories UCLA and Gonzaga. And thank you, college basketball, for decades worth of beautiful moments.