Final Four: Gonzaga survives UCLA’s upset bid in overtime thriller to stay perfect, reach men’s national title game

INDIANAPOLIS — Trying to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history, No. 11 seed underdog UCLA came out fearless and firing against national title favorite No. 1 Gonzaga.

The undefeated ‘Zags took their biggest punch all season from their gritty opponent in an overtime thriller but Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs banked in a game-winning three-pointer as time expired for a 93-90 overtime win.

UCLA gave the ‘Zags everything they had but they dug down deep and counter-punched with their dynamic offense – to ultimately stay perfect by staving off the determined Bruins.

A controversial charge call with one second left in regulation saw UCLA star Johnny Juzang – who finished with a game-high 29 points – drive to the basket and draw contact, only to see Gonzaga star Drew Timme draw an ultimately game-winning charge. Timme finished with 25 points to spearhead the survival victory.

Gonzaga advances to the national championship. The undefeated Bulldogs (31-0) will face No. 1 seed Baylor Monday (9 p.m. ET, CBS) in a highly anticipated matchup between two super teams.

Role player Joel Ayayi (22 points) was the fill-in star for Gonzaga in this one, while the ‘Zags’ big three – Timme, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs – all made key plays to keep UCLA back just enough.

UCLA held the game’s momentum throughout much of the first half, but foul trouble plagued coach Mick Cronin’s team. Jules Bernard picked up three fouls, while Tyger Campbell and Jaime Jaquez Jr. each picked up two in the first half. Then a five-point lead was quickly erased, as back-to-back three-pointers by Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs tied the game before Kispert’s jumper gave Gonzaga a 45-44 lead heading into halftime.

Kispert’s put-back with 56 seconds left in regulation put Gonzaga up 81-79 and his three-pointer with 4:25 left was a decisive bucket that gave the ‘Zags a 75-74 edge – and a much-needed momentum swing to counter the Bruins’ late rallying.

Suggs’ bullet bounce-pass to Timme with a little over a minute left gave Gonzaga a 79-77 lead – and another momentous surge.

UCLA Bruins guard Johnny Juzang (3) shoots the ball against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) and guard Joel Ayayi (11) during the first half in the national semifinals of the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Juzang paced the never-say-die UCLA squad in the loss with big score after big score, while Jaquez and Campbell added 17 and 16 points, respectively. Jaquez’s two free throws in the closing minutes tied it at 81.

Cheers of “UC-LA” echoed throughout Lucas Oil Stadium and it was evident that the team many expected to be rolled over wasn’t about to let that happen. Cronin getting this team to the Final Four was a statement that the blue-blood program is back, and many of the stars from this NCAA Tournament will be back for 2021-22.

Prior to the game, Cronin said the best way for UCLA to pull off an upset was to come out scoring – which they did – and not turn the ball over. Every game this season where the Bruins have committed less than 10 turnovers they’ve won. Except Saturday when they had just nine.

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.

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