INDIANAPOLIS — Gonzaga is one victory away from perfection. But the Bulldogs had to work for it. Really work for it.
Jalen Suggs banked in a 35-foot shot at the buzzer in overtime as the undefeated Bulldogs rallied to outlast a tough UCLA squad 93-90 on Saturday night to reach the finals of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Gonzaga (31-0) will try to complete an undefeated season on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis when it faces Baylor, a 78-59 winner against Houston in Saturday’s early game. It will be Gonzaga’s second trip to the title game. The Bulldogs lost 71-65 to North Carolina in the 2017 title game.
It was the first national semifinal game to go to overtime since 1998.
Gonzaga is trying to become the first undefeated national champion in men’s college basketball since Indiana in 1976. The Hoosiers went 32-0 under coach Bob Knight. UCLA was aiming for its 12th national title.
The last two teams to reach the Final Four with an unblemished record -- UNLV in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015 -- both lost in the national semifinals. Gonzaga moves on in an attempt to make history.
Since Indiana won in 1976, the only team to reach the title game with an unblemished record was Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, in 1979. Indiana lost to Michigan State, led by Magic Johnson, in that year’s championship.
Suggs, who scored 16 points, made his improbable basket after UCLA, a 14-point underdog, tied the game for the final time on Johnny Juzang’s putback layup.
Juzang led UCLA with 29 points.
“I’ve always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe and D-Wade and go like that, and that’s the first thing I did,” Suggs said. “Man, that is something that you practice on your mini-hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it’s crazy.”
Gonzaga was helped by Drew Timme, who scored 25 points and had the Bulldogs’ first six points in overtime.
Saturday’s game was hotly contested from the start, with 10 lead changes in the first half and five ties.
UCLA (22-10), which had won five straight games in this year’s tournament -- including victories against No. 1-seeded in Michigan and No. 2-seeded Alabama -- set the pace early and led by as much as six in the first half. But Gonzaga closed fast to take a 45-44 lead at the half.
The game remained close in the second half, with UCLA taking a 71-70 lead with 6:04 to play after Gonzaga went scoreless for two minutes. But the Bulldogs regained the lead on Corey Kispert’s 3-pointer with 4:31 to go. The Bruins, however, battled back and took a 77-75 lead on Juzang’s 3-pointer with 2:49 remaining.
The game was tied two more times before Gongaza turned a defensive block by Suggs on Cody Riley into a dunk by Kispert to give Gonzaga an 81-79.
“I couldn’t give him a free bucket,” Suggs said. “Either I was going to find him at the line or make a play on the ball. I went to the corner -- it was tough to get it. I got it. I saw Drew running, and Tyger Campbell is fast. I wanted to throw it. It looked wide open. And then as soon as I let it go out of my hands, he had like another gear. It made it a lot closer than I wanted it to be. I knew Coach was maybe a little pissed that I made the pass, but it got through.”
Jaime Jaquez Jr. then made a pair of free throws to tie the game again at 81.
UCLA had a chance to win in regulation, but Juzang was called for a charge on Timme with 1.1 seconds left.