Gonzaga Stuns UCLA With Three-Pointer Buzzer Beater For Final Four Win

At halftime Saturday night, UCLA coach Mick Cronin challenged his team to keep it close for 10 more minutes and that they should then be able to crank up the pressure on unbeaten Gonzaga.

The flawless combination created a masterpiece of a college basketball game. It just didn’t lead to a win for the upstart Bruins.

After UCLA star Johnny Juzang’s basket with 3.3 seconds to go in overtime tied things up at 90, Jalen Suggs answered with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to send the unbeaten Bulldogs into their second national championship game and the Bruins home to think about how close they came to adding another memorable chapter to the school’s rich history.

“When Johnny got the putback, I didn’t have a timeout left so I was running at my guys to get their attention to trap the ball and they got there late,” Bruins coach Mick Cronin said. “It’s not their fault because we trained them to get back because Gonzaga is so fast. If you look at the film I was trying to get them to come up so he (Suggs) couldn’t get into that shot. Still, it was a bank shot from half court.”

UCLA (22-10) played this one a bit different than they had through their incredible tourney run that started in the First Four. The Bruins often traded baskets with Gonzaga (31-0), one of the nation’s most prolific scoring teams, and didn’t allow the Zags to go on one of their trademark runs.

The Bruins also made sure to keep things slow, deliberate and tense.

It was almost enough.

Juzang finished with 29 points to lead the Bruins, trying to become the first No. 11 seed to reach the championship game. Afterward, stunned UCLA players gathered around as the officials looked at a replay review to make sure the shot was off in time. It was.

“We went out fighting,” Juzang said. “We went out, there’s no better way, there’s no regrets. Everybody fought to the last play and the last shot is the last shot.”

UCLA can take solace in doing something no other team did this season by forcing the high-scoring Zags into overtime. It just couldn’t close out Gonzaga to continue an incredible postseason run that included overtime wins over Michigan State and Alabama, runaways against BYU and Abilene Christian and holding off off top-seeded Michigan to join VCU as the only teams to advance from the First Four to the Final Four.

The Bruins were fighting for school pride, too.

Only seven Division I teams and four schools have been undefeated national champs. Only UCLA has done it more than once, celebrating perfect seasons in 1963-64, 1966-67, 1971-72 and 1972-73. The last team to accomplish the feat was the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers.

Since then, two undefeated teams had reached a Final Four in Indianapolis and lost — UNLV to Duke in 1991, Kentucky to Wisconsin in 2015. Gonzaga is the third and the Zags, too, were in a dogfight.

“Everybody is going to ask what I just told my team, so I’ll just tell you: I told them they have to let the last shot go,” Cronin said. “As much as they want to be beaten down and gutted and miserable, they have to let it go because they’re winners. As a coach all you can ask of your players is to give everything they’ve got.”

The Bruins certainly did their part.

Each time it looked like Gonzaga might get away, they fought right back — methodically erasing a 64-57 deficit midway through the second half. And it looked like they might win in regulation until Juzang was called for a charge with less than 1 second to go.

In overtime, Gonzaga jumped out to a quick 87-83 lead but when they couldn’t put it away, the Bruins capitalized. Cody Riley hit a 15-footer. The Zags answered with a 3-pointer from Andrew Nembhard to make it 90-85 with 1:15 to go and yet the Bruins knotted things at 90 — only to see their effort fall short when Suggs’ magical shot set up the Monday night matchup college basketball fans have waited all season to watch — Gonzaga vs. Baylor.

“Kudos to them, they’re a very good team,” Juzang said. “But we’re UCLA and the guys on this team, there’s no one I’d rather go to battle with. And we expect to win. We are who we are and every game we went out and left it out there and let the best man win.”

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2019: Final Four & Championship Picks

March Madness has arrived, and we are here to help you make the best bracket picks. The following is a breakdown of my Final Four picks heading into the NCAA tournament.

One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.

Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.

One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.

Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.

What are we looking for when picking our Final Four teams? Veteran teams with tournament experience tend to perform well. Teams that shoot the ball well from the free-throw line and long-range is another sign of a potential contender. Jump shots do not always fall in March, so a team with a stout defense give themselves a chance to string together wins even if their offense is not firing on all cylinders.

Feel free to reach out on Twitter @JonDAdams with any March Madness bracket questions you have or with your Final Four predictions. Here are my Final Four picks based on the latest bracket projections.


Gonzaga

Your bracket mates may be fading the Zags after their surprising loss to St. Mary’s in the WAC title game, but don’t follow the crowd. Unless the committee pulls a surprise, Gonzaga is likely going to be in the West region. No path to the Final Four is easy, but Gonzaga is likely to have the path of least resistance. Geography does play somewhat of a role in the regions, and the Zags could benefit from a weaker Pac-12 this season.

Pathway aside, Gonzaga has consistently been one of the best teams in the country. Gonzaga was the lone team to defeat a full-strength Duke team during the regular season. The Zags only three losses came to NCAA tournament teams: Tennessee, North Carolina and St. Mary’s. Gonzaga has wins over Washington, Creighton, Texas A&M, Illinois, Arizona and St. Mary’s.

Gonzaga is a veteran team with their top players having made multiple March Madness appearances. Rui Hachimura is a legit star who is likely heading to the NBA after the season. Hachimura is a shooter with length that is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Gonzaga also has Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins to lead a balanced scoring attack. Not to mentioned Gonzaga’s defense can also shut down opponents’ offenses.

Florida State and Syracuse are two teams to watch as potential pitfalls in the west. Overall, I like Gonzaga chances to bounce back from their recent loss and make the Final Four.


North Carolina

Despite beating the Blue Devils in two of their three matchups, Duke has received the majority of the attention. North Carolina does not have the star power of its rival, but the team has the makeup for a deep run in March. The Tar Heels enter the NCAA tournament-tested by an ACC schedule, arguably the best conference in college basketball. UNC has wins over Gonzaga, Duke (twice), Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State.

The Tar Heels have plenty of March Madness experience led by Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye. Coby White is playing his best basketball of the season heading into the NCAA tournament. Nassir Little could be an X-factor for North Carolina thanks to his defensive ability. The Tar Heels can bring him in to guard the other team’s best playmaker for spurts. Whatever he adds on offense will be a bonus.

Duke

Duke is not invincible like we may have thought when they dominated Michigan State to start the season, but they are still more than capable of cutting down the nets. Duke is the most talented team in the country, but the question is whether that talent works together in a cohesive unit in March.

Zion Williamson shows no ill-effects from his knee injury. The play of Tre Jones and Cam Reddish could determine how far Duke goes in the tournament. Williamson and R.J. Barrett are going to provide the best one-two punch in the tournament. The challenge for Duke is they go through cold spells, then appear to flip a switch like the Golden State Warriors. We have seen talented teams play with fire and get burned in the tournament.


Tennessee

Despite being one of the higher seeds, Tennessee is likely going to be absent from a lot of your competitors’ bracket picks. The Vols don’t have the kind of recent tournament success of some of the other teams on our list. Tennessee still comes in tested thanks to a solid SEC schedule.

Tennessee has wins over Gonzaga, Louisville, Mississippi State among others. Senior guard Admiral Schofield is the engine that keeps the Vols train moving. Schofield does a little bit of everything including shooting 41 percent from the three-point line. Tennessee is far from a one-man show with five players averaging double-digit points.


National Championship Pick: Duke Over Gonzaga

Our Final Four picks feature North Carolina and Duke squaring off in the Final Four. It would be the fourth time the two teams have met this season, but only the second time with Williamson. It could be the game of the season, but Duke has the talent needed to win for the second straight time. The national championship matchup of Gonzaga and Duke is a rematch of an early season matchup. The Zags were victorious in the first meeting, but I like the Blue Devils to get revenge this time around. Experience often trumps talent in the NCAA tournament, but when Duke is playing at its best the Blue Devils look like they have been doing this for years.

No. 1 at the Start, and No. 1 at the Finish

ImageATLANTA —Louisville players after defeating Michigan, 82-76, in the N.C.A.A. Championship. Behind the Louisville bench, those in cardinal red remained on their feet in the final minutes, unable to sit down, or feel comfortable, or breathe. Peyton Siva drove and Gorgui Dieng swatted and Luke Hancock launched 3-pointers. Here was Louisville, the top seed in this N.C.A.A. tournament, playing like it until the end. As the national championship unspooled Monday night, Louisville and Michigan put on a show, a production worthy of a stage, with acrobatics and dramatic flair, with stars in their usual roles and understudies in starring ones, with bodies that thudded when they hit the floor after so many collisions at the Georgia Dome. It was Cirque du Soleil for the hoops set. Louisville pulled from many elements, from its press and its pressure, from its outside marksmanship and its balanced scoring. The Cardinals (35-5) came from behind and seized control as the second half wore on. They ultimately triumphed, 82-76, as those fans danced and waved red towels and finally exhaled. With that, a college basketball season as chaotic as any in recent memory ended, at once oddly and predictably, in favor of the favorite. “These are the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” said Rick Pitino, officially a Hall of Famer now, before he revealed that he promised them he would get a tattoo if they triumphed on Monday night. Bring on the ink — perhaps “Louisville 4-eva” across the chest. The players left the bench in the final seconds and stood on the elevated court. At the end of the scrum stood guard Kevin Ware, who broke his leg earlier in this tournament, propped up on crutches, as confetti rained down on the court. Out came the championship hats and T-shirts, the black Louisville banner, the stage for “One Shining Moment.” Siva grabbed the flag and carried it around the court.