College basketball: Gonzaga, Baylor head to National Championship


April 3 (UPI) — Jalen Suggs flew through the air, launched a deep shot and banked it in off the glass as the buzzer sounded to lead Gonzaga to a dramatic overtime win over UCLA in a National Semifinal matchup Saturday in Indianapolis.

Gonzaga will battle Baylor for the National Championship at 9 p.m. EDT Monday on ESPN.

“That is something you practice as a kid on your mini-hoop just messing around,” Suggs told reporters.

“To be able to do that in a game is just crazy. Stuff like this is what you dream of.”

Suggs’ shot, which came from nearly half court at Lucas Oil Stadium, ended an extremely tight Final Four matchup and clinched the Bulldogs’ spot in Monday’s National Championship game. Suggs had 16 points in the 93-90 triumph.

The Bulldogs will battle fellow top seed Baylor in the 2021 NCAA Division I men’s college basketball tournament finale. Baylor advanced earlier Saturday with a lopsided win over No. 2 Houston.

Gonzaga, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, used a balanced attack to beat No. 11 UCLA. Drew Timme paced the Bulldogs with a 25 points. Joel Ayayi chipped in 22 points in the win. Bruins guard Johnny Juzang scored a game-high 29 points in the loss.

“What a great college basketball game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told reporters. “To do it on the biggest stage is awesome. I know we had a lucky half-courter at the end, but both teams battled and battled.

“We had the last possession and we were lucky enough to hit a 50-footer. It helps when you have a magical guy like Jalen, especially at the end of games.”

Timme put the Bulldogs ahead with a layup nine seconds into the bonus period. Timme and UCLA’s Cody Riley then traded shots for their respective teams to keep the game close. Andrew Nembhard later drained a clutch 3-pointer to give Gonzaga a 90-85 lead with 1:17 remaining.

The Bruins answered with a 5-0 run to tie the score with three seconds remaining in overtime. The Bulldogs then quickly inbounded the ball and got a pass to Suggs. The Gonzaga guard took three dribbles and proceeded to drain his prayer of a shot to clinch the victory.

The Bulldogs and Bruins got off to a smoldering start in the first half. The Bulldogs shot 60.7% from the field to take a 45-44 lead at halftime. UCLA shot 57.7% in the first half. Gonzaga stayed in the game with a dominant paint presence, while UCLA used its sharpshooters to keep pace.

The first half featured 11 lead changes and the teams were never separated by more than six points. Juzang scored 15 points in the first half for UCLA. Ayayi had a game-high 16 points at the break for the Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs and Bruins got cold to start the second half, but kept the game close. Gonzaga pulled ahead by seven points with 11:25 remaining, but UCLA answered and took a one-point lead about five minutes later. The Bruins and Bulldogs then exchanged the lead several times in the last few minutes of regulation.

Corey Kispert gave Gonzaga a 81-79 lead on a layup with 56 seconds remaining, but was then responsible for a foul on the next possession. Jaime Jaquez Jr. then sank two free throws to force overtime.

Timme got off to a hot start in overtime and made the Bulldogs’ first six points of the frame, but the Bruins fought until Suggs sent them home with a heartbreaking loss.

“UCLA deserves all the credit in the world for giving us the game they gave us,” Suggs said. “They have big shot makers.”

Kispert had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in the win. Riley had 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for UCLA.

Baylor blasts Houston

Baylor balanced brilliant offensive ball movement with a smothering defense to blow out Houston on Saturday in the Final Four and advance to Monday’s National Championship game in Indianapolis.

Junior guard Jared Butler paced the top-seeded Bears with 17 points, all scored in the first half of the 78-59 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Davion Mitchell chipped in 12 points and 11 assists for Baylor. The Bears bench contributed 32 points in the win.

“I’m a shooter,” Butler told reporters. “Sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really about staying confident.

“Thankfully the ball went in when we needed it the most.”

The Bears corralled the No. 2 Cougars with intense defensive pressure and were sharp from 3-point range in the first half. Butler made four of five 3-point attempts to help the Bears earn a 45-20 lead at halftime.

“We had a great start,” Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters. “The guys really played with poise, shared the ball and made extra passes, but the big thing was that we really guarded well and defended well.

“You knew Houston would score in the second half, but we were able to hold them at bay.”

The Bears and Cougars went point for point to start the game. Baylor then went on a 10-0 run and stole momentum. The Bears put together another 11-0 run later in the half to push the lead to 21 points.

The Bears’ 45 first-half points were the most allowed by the Cougars in the first half of any game this season. The Cougars had one of the nation’s stingiest defenses and allowed the second-fewest points per game in college basketball.

Cougars guard Marcus Sasser had 17 of his game-high 20 points in the first half, but the rest of the team struggled to convert from the field.

The Cougars were re-energized to start the second half and used a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 16 points, but the Bears fended off the surge and held on to the advantage.

Matthew Mayer scored 12 points off the Baylor bench. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Macio Teague scored 11 points apiece for the Bears. Houston guard Quentin Grimes scored 13 points.

“When we are all connected and united, it’s hard for anybody to beat us,” Butler said. “We have a lot of guys who would start on other teams. I think that’s why we are so good and made it to the championship game.”


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