The UCLA men’s basketball team returned to Los Angeles Sunday, one day after its bid for an upset of undefeated Gonzaga ended with Jalen Suggs making an approximately 40-foot 3-point basket as time expired in overtime to give the Bulldogs a 93-90 victory.
The Bruins had tied the score in the national semifinal game of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament when Johnny Juzang grabbed the rebound of his missed jump shot and made a layup with three seconds to play.
UCLA had a chance to win in regulation Saturday but Juzang was called for an offensive foul with one second left, forcing the Bruins into overtime for the third time in their six games in the tournament.
“These guys, they deserved a better ending, but like I told them, as coach Wooden would say, true greatness is giving your best effort and that’s what they did,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said, referring to the late John Wooden, who coached the Bruins to 10 national championships between 1964 and 1975.
Henry Bushnell of Yahoo Sports declared the game to be the second best in the Final Four since 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams and before he was born, behind Villanova’s 77-74 victory over North Carolina in the 2016 championship game, won on Kris Jenkins’ 3-point basket as time expired after Marcus Paige tied the score with 4.7 seconds left on an off-balance 3-point basket.
After Suggs made the winning shot, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted, “OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Clark Kellogg, the former Ohio State standout who is a studio analyst on CBS’ tournament coverage, said the game had “unbelievable shot-making, playmaking, toughness, tenacity, clutch plays, everything you can envision in a game was on display there and neither team backed up. Nobody lost this game. UCLA ran out of time.”
The Bruins never led in the overtime. After UCLA junior forward Cody Riley made a jump shot to tie the score, 83-83, with 4:21 left, Drew Timme made back-to-back layups for Gonzaga.
Riley made a jump shot with two minutes, seven seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 87-85. Andrew Nembhard made a 3-point basket to give the Bulldogs a 90-85 lead with 1:15 to play.
The Bruins pulled back within two, 90-88, on Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s 3-point basket with 48 seconds left.
Juzang scored a game-high 29 points to lead four Bruins in double figures. Jaquez added 19, Tyger Campbell 17 and Riley 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Timme led Gonzaga (31-0) with 25. Joel Ayayi added 22, Suggs 16, Corey Kispert 15 and Nembhard 11 as the Bulldogs extended their school-record winning streak to 35 games.
However, their NCAA Division I record 26-game winning streak by at least 10 points ended.
There were 19 lead changes and 15 ties. UCLA’s biggest lead was six, 36-30, 4:35 before halftime. Gonzaga’s biggest lead was seven, 64-57, with 11:54 remaining in regulation and 66-59, with 11:21 left in regulation.
Oddsmakers made the Bruins a 14- 15 1/2-point underdog. The ABC News-owned data prediction website FiveThirtyEight gave UCLA a 17% chance of winning.
“We went out fighting,” Juzang said. “There’s no better way. There’s no regrets. Just everybody fought to the last play and the last shot is the last shot.”
To Cronin, “maybe a big key to the game” was Campbell being called for his second foul with 8:13 left in the first half and the Bruins leading 27-25, prompting Cronin to take his starting point guard out of the game. Campbell did not return until the start of the second half.
“We were able to get to the half only down one,” Cronin said. UCLA trailed 45-44 at halftime. “But maybe if he doesn’t go out … we get (to) the half up five or six.”
The Bruins outscored the Bulldogs by one during the 10 minutes Campbell was on the court in the first half. He played the entire game after halftime, with UCLA outscoring Gonzaga by one during the 20 minutes he was on the court in the second half but the Bruins were outscored by three during the five minutes he was on the court in overtime.
The loss ended an unlikely tournament run for UCLA (22-10) which was seeded 11th in the East Region and 44th in the 68-team field.
As one of the lowest four seeded at-large teams the Bruins were required to play in the First Four, where they defeated Michigan State, 86-80, March 18 in overtime, rallying from a 14-point first-half deficit.
UCLA defeated sixth-seeded Brigham Young, 73-62, in an East Region first-round game March 20 and 14th-seeded Abilene Christian, 67-47, in a second-round game March 22.
The Bruins upset second-seeded Alabama, 88-78, in overtime in a Sweet 16 game Sunday, and top-seeded Michigan, 88-78, in an Elite Eight game Tuesday, advancing to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
UCLA joined Virginia Commonwealth as the only teams to go from the First Four to the Final Four. The Rams accomplished the feat in 2011 when the First Four was first held in connection with the tournament’s expanded from 65 teams to 68.
The Bruins were seeking to advance to the national championship game for the 14th time and first since 2006.
The Bulldogs will face Baylor in Monday’s championship game. The Bears defeated Houston, 78-59, in the first national semifinal earlier Saturday. Gonzaga will seek to become the eighth team to win a national championship with an undefeated record and the first since Indiana went 32-0 in the 1975-76 season.
The Bulldogs are the tournament’s No. 1 seeded team while Baylor is seeded second.
This will be Gonzaga’s second appearance in the championship game. The Bulldogs lost to North Carolina, 71-65, in the 2017 championship game, their only previous Final Four appearance.
The Bears will also be making their second national championship game appearance. They lost to Kentucky, 58-42, in the 1948 championship game.
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