Gonzaga’s bid for perfection still alive after instant-classic

They are poetry in motion when they play, a merciless machine that chews you up with relentless excellence and spits you out. Virtually every step of the way, Gonzaga hadn’t blinked, hadn’t

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They are poetry in motion when they play, a merciless machine that chews you up with relentless excellence and spits you out.

Virtually every step of the way, Gonzaga hadn’t blinked, hadn’t wavered, hadn’t withered under the pressure of chasing perfection, trying to become the first team since Bob Knight’s 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to stand undefeated with unbridled joy while they play One Shining Moment on the last Monday night of the college basketball season.

And then UCLA happened. Mick Cronin happened. Villanova over Georgetown started to happen. North Carolina State over Houston started to happen.

Somebody forgot to tell the UCLA Bruins they were supposed to be foils. The Bulldogs needed 65 minutes to put the gritty Bruins away.

It was an epic game for the ages, a classic that won’t soon be forgotten.

Gonzaga needed Drew Timme, who had taken The Charge Heard Round Spokane and Westwood at the end of regulation, in its most desperate hour … its most desperate five minutes of a perfect season.

And then the Bulldogs needed an electric freshman named Jalen Suggs, because UCLA made them need Suggs.

They needed a miracle shot from Suggs.

Jalen Suggs celebrates with his teammates after hitting the overtime buzzer-beating shot in Gonzaga’s 93-90 victory over UCLA.
Getty Images

Timme scored the Zags’ first six points in the first two minutes of overtime, but the Bruins fought back from a five-point deficit with less than a minute left to tie it and appeared to have forced a second OT.

And then Jalen Suggs dribbled frantically up court and threw up a running 40-foot prayer from just past half-court.

It banked in.

Pandemonium.

Thrill of victory on one side. Agony of defeat on the other.

Suggs stood atop a table and exulted as he was mobbed by euphoric teammates.

“Crazy shot,” Suggs said. “I still don’t believe it right now. … That’s something you practice on your mini hoop just messing around.”

Gonzaga 93, UCLA 90.

UCLA nearly deprived us of the dream Gonzaga-Baylor final most of the college basketball world craved. Baylor is the one and only team now left capable of turning Gonzaga’s dream 31-0 season into a 31-1 nightmare flexing its muscles at the perfect time.

“We had the last possession,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, “and we’re lucky enough to hit a 50-footer.”

No slingshots permitted inside Lucas Oil Stadium. No slingshots needed.

Goliath versus Goliath.

Few got to the last Monday night of the season in 2017 and lost to North Carolina. He’s back this time with what has been a merciless monster … though a monster that could not scare UCLA.

Few knows that these last 40 minutes can be the hardest 40 minutes of your basketball life, the cruelest 40 minutes of your basketball life.

Baylor-Gonzaga is the equivalent of Ali-Frazier I, and it hardly means that Few and the Zags should expect a coronation.

Because Baylor can win this game.

The Zags may not bleed as often as everybody else, but UCLA showed the world that they bleed just like everybody else.

UCLA punched Gonzaga in the mouth and drew blood, all right.

The Bruins played with no fear, no awe, they played like they expected to win. They played with so much heart and so much fight.

From the jump, UCLA played like it knew it belonged.

The school’s 11 championship banners weren’t going to help the Bruins.

They didn’t care.

UCLA’s junkyard dogs stripped Gonzaga of its aura of invincibility, and showed how a superhuman team could be rendered human.

The Bruins played to win. They didn’t try to shorten the game. They didn’t try to slow the game. They attacked the basket. They attacked the Zags. They contested every shot. They took no prisoners.

They made a mockery of Gonzaga’s vaunted defense.

For a longer time than anyone could have imagined, they were the tougher team, physically and mentally.

For the first time in this year’s tournament, Gonzaga trailed in the second half.

The longer the Bruins stood in the center of the ring and traded blows with the Zags, the more they believed. And the more the Zags felt the pressure.

UCLA was not letting Suggs take over the game, not letting Timme take over the game.

The Bruins, especially point guard Tyger Campbell, played as if they had nothing to lose.

Suggs had brilliantly rejected a Cody Riley jam towards the end of regulation and whipped the ball to a streaking Timme.

“I couldn’t just give him a free bucket,” Suggs said.

Timme, with his four fouls, took his charge on a driving Johnny Juzang with 1.1 seconds left.

After Baylor’s 78-59 demolition of Houston, Jared Butler was asked about the expected matchup with the Zags.

“They got pros, we got pros,” Butler said. “They win a lot of games, we win a lot of games. I think we match up well.”

“It’s gonna be a battle,” Suggs said.

Until the end, the Zags played as if they had everything — perfection, history — to lose.

They had better be better against Baylor, or they will.

This story originally appeared on: NyPost - Author:Steve Serby

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