“I knew when he shot it, it was going in,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few says with a straight face.
After everything — 66 games of predictable demolitions, bracket-crippling upsets, to-the-end thrillers and even a no-contest forced by the coronavirus — the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament is headed right where many people long figured it would: a Monday night national title matchup between Gonzaga and Baylor.
The No. 1 seeds advanced through the Final Four on Saturday, with Baylor easing past Houston, 78-59, and Gonzaga tardily summoning its scoring prowess to survive U.C.L.A., 93-90, in overtime with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Jalen Suggs.
But the Bruins, who required a play-in game to reach even the tournament’s first round, very nearly derailed Gonzaga’s quest to become the first undefeated team to win a national title in 45 years. At halftime, Gonzaga led by 1 point, and it was fortunate to hold even that much of an advantage.
Then the offensive machinery of Gonzaga stopped creaking and started scoring. Drew Timme, the team’s leading scorer this season, finished with 25 points after logging 8 in the opening half. Joel Ayayi, whose 16 first-half points salvaged Gonzaga’s first 20 minutes, had 22 on the night. Dozens of Gonzaga’s points came from the paint.
U.C.L.A.’s Jaime Jaquez Jr., though, made a free-throw with 43 seconds to play to tie the score in regulation. Then Gonzaga, behind Timme, struck first in the overtime period and started to to build a lead to carry it to Monday’s championship showdown.
But U.C.L.A. tied the game again with about 3 seconds to play. Then, as time expired, Suggs launched a long shot toward the basket. It went in.
Gonzaga edged U.C.L.A. 93-90 with a buzzer-beater in overtime and will play Baylor for the national title.
Jalen Suggs hit a 40-foot 3-pointer to snatch the win as time expired.
Unreal Jalen Suggs drains a game-winning 3-pointer off the window to keep Gonzaga unbeaten with a 93-90 win in OT. Gonzaga is 31-0 and will face Baylor Monday night for the N.C.A.A. championship.
It’s Timme Time. Drew Timme draws the charge to close out regulation and been huge offensively in the OT. Andrew Nembhard’s 3-pointer puts the Bulldogs up 90-85.
We’re headed for overtime, with U.C.L.A. and Gonzaga knotted at 81. This will be familiar ground for the Bruins: U.C.L.A. has already played — and won — two overtime games during this tournament.
Gonzaga hasn’t been involved in a close game in this tournament and really not for the whole season. Only one team, West Virginia, came within 10 points. Drew Timme also has 4 fouls. Getting down to the wire here.
Johnny Juzang in this tournament: 21 points and counting vs. Gonzaga, 28 vs. Michigan, 13 vs. Alabama, 17 vs. Abilene Christian, 27 vs. B.Y.U., 23 vs. Michigan State.
It’s evidence of how deep and talented Gonzaga is that its fourth-best player, Joel Ayayi, leads the Bulldogs tonight with 20 points and 4 rebounds. Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs are the bigger stars but tonight Ayayi has been his team’s best offensive player.
U.C.L.A. played a brilliant first half but still trails unbeaten Gonzaga, 45-44, at the break after the Bulldogs closed the half on a 15-8 run.
The Bruins played at their tempo to start the game and shot 15-of-26 for the half and 4-of-7 from deep. Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang continues to play great offense and has 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He entered averaging 21.3 points in the tournament, including 28 in the win over No. 1 seed Michigan. Tyger Campbell also has 9 points.
Gonzaga’s Joel Ayayi carried the Bulldogs offensively for much of the half and finished 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting.
Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs have a combined 22 points for the Bulldogs and you have to figure they will be more potent in the second half.
Gonzaga is looking to become the first unbeaten team since Larry Bird’s Indiana State team in 1979 to make the championship game. The last two unbeatens to reach the national semifinals lost: Kentucky in 2015 and U.N.L.V. in 1991.
Let’s run through a few stats at halftime. Gonzaga’s shooting has been a touch more accurate, 61 percent to 58 percent for U.C.L.A. The Bruins have an edge on free throws. Gonzaga is dominating the paint, scoring 24 points there, and has 9 points off turnovers. But U.C.L.A. is out-rebounding Gonzaga. Scoring leaders: Joel Ayayi has 16 for Gonzaga, and Johnny Juzang has logged 15 for U.C.L.A.
Halftime in Indianapolis, where Gonzaga is up by 1. But the top-seeded Zags have led for less than six minutes tonight.
It almost feels like U.C.L.A. dominated the half because the Bruins scored 44 points after scoring 51 total against Michigan. Still Gonzaga closed on a 15-8 run to take a 45-44 lead at the break. Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs will probably bring more firepower in the second half.
Gonzaga’s three leading scorers this season — Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs — have combined for 14 points so far tonight. Meanwhile, Joel Ayayi has 15 for the Zags. U.C.L.A. leads by 2 with 3:41 to play before halftime.
You have to wonder what it’s like for Kentucky fans watching their former player Johnny Juzang play brilliantly for 2 weeks in this tournament. He left Kentucky after one season and is averaging 21.3 points in the tournament for U.C.L.A. and poured in 28 in the upset of Michigan. He already has 10 tonight.
For U.C.L.A. to pull the upset here, the Bruins will need to slow the pace and be efficient offensively. So far, so good.
The Bruins are controlling the game’s tempo and shooting 50 percent. Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Kentucky transfer Johnny Juzang need to have big games and they’re off to good starts.
For Gonzaga, Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs have yet to get cooking, but it’s early. Joel Ayayi has carried the Bulldogs offensively so far with 10 points.
Neither Corey Kispert nor Jalen Suggs have scored yet, while Drew Timme has 4 points for Gonzaga. You have to figure they’ll get going and the Bulldogs’ offense will ramp up. Kispert and Suggs are finalists for the Naismith and Wooden Awards as the nation’s top men’s college player.
As a longtime classic rock fan, I believe Miley Cyrus did Fleetwood Mac and The Guess Who proud there. She has a gritty, earthy voice and can perform so many different vocal styles. And, like Baylor, she came in like a wrecking ball.
Ryan Hollins wanted to share a message for his U.C.L.A. Bruins on the eve of their Final Four matchup against Gonzaga.
“Because of what we did and the success that we had, Mark Few is going to try and put those boys in the dirt,” Hollins said. “They better have their hard hats ready, because they’ve inherited a rivalry that they don’t even know they’re stepping into, to be honest.”
Hollins played center on the U.C.L.A. team that engineered one of the most remarkable N.C.A.A. men’s tournament comebacks in the last generation. In 2006, U.C.L.A. frantically and improbably erased a 17-point deficit against Gonzaga in the regional semifinals, a rally that ended Adam Morrison’s storied college career.
Few coached Gonzaga then and now. Hollins played under Few at the Pan American Games in 2015. “He was still very aware, very aware of what had happened in that comeback and that they shouldn’t have let it happen,” Hollins said.
That U.C.L.A. team relied on mental toughness and adhering to the principles of Ben Howland, the head coach. The second-seeded Bruins planned to trap Morrison and run Derek Raivio off the 3-point line. But they found a team just as resilient in Gonzaga, seeded third.
The schools have never met this deep into the tournament. This Final Four matchup presents a different kind of matchup for the West Coast’s premier men’s basketball programs.
Labeling U.C.L.A. as an underdog may be an understatement. Gonzaga is a 14-point favorite, the largest Final Four spread since 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
“The team is similar to ours in the fact both teams are very scrappy,” said Cedric Bozeman, who played for U.C.L.A. in 2006. “This team has crawled their way all the way from the first game to now. They played Alabama in a close game. We played Alabama in a close game, and now they get to play Gonzaga. It’s like history.
“Hopefully history can repeat itself.”
Just last month, Kansas suffered its largest N.C.A.A. tournament loss in history. It is facing the threat of significant penalties for breaking the association’s rules. The football program is in turmoil, and Kansas is searching for a new athletic director.
But the university announced Friday, the day before the men’s tournament’s Final Four, that it expects Coach Bill Self to lead the Jayhawks for many years to come — as in, for as long as he is a basketball coach.
“We believe in Coach Self and we believe in the future of our program under his leadership, and we are thrilled that he will continue to be a Jayhawk for the rest of his coaching career,” Douglas A. Girod, the university’s chancellor said in a statement.
The contract carries the familiar perks of a big-time coaching gig: a multimillion-dollar salary, a private jet allowance, country club memberships, two courtesy vehicles that are “the highest line” of the chosen automaker.
But with Kansas under N.C.A.A. scrutiny in the wake of the federal government’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, Self’s contract contains a particularly striking clause: that the university will not fire him for cause “due to any infractions matter that involves conduct that occurred on or prior to the date of full execution of this agreement.” (The contract calls him for give up 50 percent of parts of his compensation package during any suspension by the N.C.A.A. or the Big 12 Conference.)
Kansas, of course, is accustomed to high-flying success with Self in charge. He won a national championship in 2008, the first year he guided to Kansas to one of its three Final Four appearances on his watch. And Kansas has won 15 Big 12 regular-season titles during Self’s reign, which began in 2003.
But Friday’s announcement still sent an impossible-to-miss message of defiance given the inquiry by the N.C.A.A., which accused Kansas of some of the most serious violations that can be found in the voluminous rule book that governs Division I athletics. Defiance, of course, has been integral to the strategy from Kansas and Self, who said in 2019 that the N.C.A.A’s version of events was “based on innuendo, half-truths, misimpressions and mischaracterizations.” The case is still pending.
Kansas, though, sent a signal that it is looking beyond whatever punishments come; instead, the Jayhawks are peering directly toward future N.C.A.A. tournaments (when or if they are eligible).
The last time Baylor was in the national championship game, Harry Truman was in the White House, World War II had just recently ended and the N.B.A. had only 12 teams.
Now Coach Scott Drew’s team is headed back to the title game for the first time since Baylor lost to an Adolph Rupp-coached Kentucky team on March 23, 1948 at Madison Square Garden.
After dominating Houston, 78-59, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Baylor (27-2) will face the winner of the second semifinal between undefeated Gonzaga and U.C.L.A. The title game is set for Monday night.
Charles Barkley spoke for much of the basketball world when he said he hoped to see a Gonzaga-Baylor championship game — the teams were the two best throughout the season. The Bulldogs are seeking to become the first undefeated national champion since Bob Knight coached Indiana to a perfect 32-0 mark in 1976, and the Bears have long been regarded as one of the few teams who could really test them.
Baylor raced to a commanding 45-20 halftime lead and never looked back while handing the Cougars (28-4) just their fourth loss of the season. Houston was making its first Final Four appearance since the Phi Slama Jama era when it reached three straight without winning a title (1982-84).
Jared Butler finished with 17 points and 5 rebounds for Baylor, while Davion Mitchell tallied 12 points and 11 assists with no turnovers. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua chipped in with 11 points and 6 rebounds off the bench and MaCio Teague added 11 points and 6 assists. Matthew Mayer scored 12 points off the bench.
Baylor, the No. 1 3-point shooting team in Division 1, shot 11-of-24 from beyond the arc and out-rebounded Houston, 33-28.
Marcus Sasser was Houston’s primary offensive weapon, finishing with 20 points while making 5-of-9 from deep. Quentin Grimes, who came in averaging 18 points per game, finished with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting after going scoreless in the first half.
Baylor stomps Houston, 78-59, to reach the N.C.A.A. men’s final for the first time since 1948.
The Bears led 45-20 in the first half, and stopped the Cougars from gaining any traction at all.
A telling statistic as the end nears: Baylor has 30 bench points, while Houston has 8. 76-54, Baylor, with less than two minutes to go in Indianapolis.
What counts as good news for Houston: more than a few Cougars have scored. Although Houston is trailing by plenty, six of its players now have points to their names — up from three in the first half.
Houston isn’t going away quietly, and why would they? The Cougars are outscoring Baylor 16-9 in the second half. Marcus Sasser still leads the way with 19 of 36 points. They’re going to need to get some stops and some baskets in transition here to get this thing competitive. Otherwise, it’s over.
With a barrage of 3-point shooting and a stifling defensive effort, Baylor opened up a commanding halftime lead on Houston, 45-20, in the first national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was the most points Houston has allowed in a first half this season.
The Bears are halfway to the school’s first N.C.A.A. men’s championship game appearance since 1948.
“First and foremost, we know that this is only 20 minutes, so there’s 20 more minutes to go.” Baylor coach Scott Drew said on CBS. “We couldn’t ask for a better start the first 20 minutes, but it’s a 40-minute game. So we’ve got to come out, we’ve got to do what we did the first half, that’s share the basketball and get high-percentage shots and then we’ve got to do a great job on the defensive end.”
Jared Butler, a first-team all-America selection, had a masterful first half with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-5 from deep, along with 4 rebounds. Davion Mitchell distributed the ball brilliantly with 7 assists and 9 points. And Matthew Mayer also contributed 9 points off the bench.
Houston had been holding opponents to 28.3 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc, while Baylor’s 41.1 percent clip from deep leads Division I. So far, Baylor is leading this battle by making 8-of-15 from deep. The Bears also had 12 assists on 16 baskets.
The Bears’ stingy defense also held Houston to 7-of-26 shooting. Marcus Sasser made six of Houston’s seven shots, with five 3-pointers, en route to 17 points.
Houston guard Quentin Grimes went scoreless after coming in averaging 18 points.
Baylor’s only losses this season were to Kansas and Oklahoma State. The Bears are seeking their fifth straight win since falling to Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys in the Big 12 Tournament.
With a 25-point advantage, Baylor has amassed the fourth-largest halftime lead in the history of the Final Four. More bad news for Houston: No team has overcome more than an 11-point deficit at the intermission to win a national semifinal.
No, Houston will not be setting a record for fewest points in a half of a Final Four game. That mark belongs to Villanova, which scored 10 against Ohio State in a Final Four matchup in 1939.
Houston’s Marcus Sasser made eight 3-pointers in a game against Tulane in January. He’s already 4-of-6 from deep for 12 of Houston’s 14 points in this game. He’s really been their offense at this point.
Houston’s Marcus Sasser has 12 points and has made half of his shots. The rest of the Cougars? Well, DeJon Jarreau is the only other one to have scored — and he has just 2 points. Five players have scored so far for Baylor, which leads, 25-14, with 7:48 to play before the intermission.
Davion Mitchell is already filling up the stat sheet for Baylor, with 4 points, 4 assists and a key steal under the basket as the Bears lead 17-11. Marcus Sasser has accounted for 9 of 11 points for Houston, which will need to get Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau going.
As in recent years, the men’s Final Four games are being broadcast on CBS. The official way to stream the tournament is through the N.C.A.A.’s March Madness Live app, which requires logging in through a TV provider.
The Paramount+ app will also carry the games.
After its 81-72 win against Arkansas, Baylor (28-3) made it to its first Final Four since 1950 and the Bears look as ready as ever. The Bears, the top seed in the South region, are a strong defensive team that is going to give Houston its most challenging matchup in the tournament. The Bears also have great 3-point shooting — the best in the men’s game at 41 percent.
Baylor is led by three skilled guards — Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell — who combine to score 46.5 of the team’s 83 average points per game.
The important thing for Baylor is to take advantage of its shooting strengths. Houston’s defense is a hard one to get past, but Baylor has the shooters to do it. They just have to make the shots.
Baylor struggles with turnovers, averaging 11.7 per game. That carelessness with the ball sometimes hurts the Bears, like it did when they allowed Arkansas to make a comeback from 17 points down. Houston’s elite and quick defense could take advantage if that happens again.
Defense, defense, defense — No. 2-seeded Houston (28-3) out of the Midwest region is great at it. The Cougars are making their first Final Four appearance since 1984 and looking like a team ready and able to stop any offense in its path. Houston is able to close in quick and force turnovers, making it the second best defense in men’s Division I, holding opponents to just 57.6 points per game.
Houston is led by Quentin Grimes, a transfer from Kansas who has found much success with the Cougars. Grimes averages 18 points and 5.8 rebounds and is key to the team’s offensive strategy.
The Cougars are also a great rebounding team, which will be particularly important against Baylor’s 3-point shooting to take those second-chance points away from the Bears.
Houston has to be able to either set the pace of the game or keep up with Baylor on the offensive end. It is clearly a strong team when it comes to preventing its opponents from making shots, but Houston still must make its own.
Grimes is important for the Cougars offense, but he isn’t all of it, and can’t be if Houston expects to beat Baylor.
Gonzaga and Baylor have been ranked No. 1 and 2 for much of this college basketball season and the two schools may end up playing for the N.C.A.A. championship on Monday night.
But is Gonzaga point guard Andrew Nembhard already looking past upset-minded UCLA toward a showdown with the Bears, who have to beat Houston to reach the final?
“We were supposed to play them earlier in the season and we did a full scout on them, and the game got canceled the morning of, so we definitely had our eyes on them early in the season,” Nembhard said, referring to the game scheduled for Dec. 5 in Indianapolis that was canceled because of positive coronavirus tests within the Gonzaga program.
“We’ve definitely been watching their games and just seeing how great they’re doing,” Nembhard said. “I would love to play them in the finals and it would be a great matchup.”
Saturday has already been an eventful day for the Nembhard family as Ryan Nembhard, Andrew’s younger brother who is committed to Creighton, helped lead national prep power Montverde Academy in Florida to its fifth Geico High School Nationals title in the last nine years.
Now, Andrew hopes to lead unbeaten Gonzaga (30-0) past U.C.L.A. (22-9) and into the national title game against Baylor or Houston.
DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser and the rest of the Cougars had not been born when Houston’s Phi Slama Jama teams, coached by Guy Lewis, reached three straight Final Fours from 1982 to ’84.
Led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, the Cougars lost in the 1983 final to the North Carolina State team coached by Jim Valvano and then to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown a year later.
Houston — now featuring Jarreau, a New Orleans native who began his career at UMass; Grimes, who transferred from Kansas; and the sharpshooting Sasser, a Texas native like Grimes — has won 11 straight games dating to Feb. 18.
“I’m happy to bring that excitement back to Houston and continue what the Phi Slama Jama did,” Jarreau said.
Gonzaga (30-0) stands on the doorstep of history, but the Bulldogs haven’t made it their obsession.
With two more wins, Coach Mark Few’s club would become the first undefeated national champion in men’s basketball since Indiana in 1976. With victories Saturday and Monday, Gonzaga would finish at 32-0, the same mark that the Hoosiers put up 45 years ago.
“We’re not hung up on the undefeated thing at all,” Few told reporters after his squad dismantled No. 5-seeded Creighton, 83-65, in the round of 16 on Sunday. “We’ve got to go 3-0 if we want to win the championship, and that’s been our goal all along. Pressure is on all these teams as you get farther and farther along with this. Pressure comes from all kinds of places, and the biggest pressure of all is you just don’t want it to end.”
The two previous teams to get this far while undefeated — U.N.L.V. in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015 — both lost in the national semifinals.
Gonzaga does not appear to be in danger of following suit. The Bulldogs feature three players on the ballot for the Naismith Trophy as the nation’s best college player: Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs. Their fourth best player, Joel Ayayi, owns the only triple-double in program history. The Bulldogs have won their first four tournament games by a combined 96 points.
“I’ve loved every part of this journey, and we’re not done yet,” Suggs said in a television interview after Gonzaga smashed Southern California, 85-66, in the round of 8 on Tuesday.
Coach Scott Drew and the Bears (26-2) are appearing in the program’s first Final Four since 1950 and are seeking to make their first championship game since 1948. They enter as a 5-point favorite over Houston (28-3).
Baylor was the No. 2 team in the nation for much of the season and may be best equipped to challenge Gonzaga should it reach the final because it features a group of talented and experienced perimeter players in Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer.
The backcourt matchup will be crucial. Houston holds opponents to 28.3 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc, while Baylor’s 41.1 percent clip from deep leads Division I.
Since a pause because of virus protocols and a loss to Kansas in late February, the Bears are 8-1 and appear to be playing at the same level as when they began the season 18-0.
“We felt we had to diagnose some things, correct some things going forward,” Teague said of the Kansas loss. “And we felt like we would continue to get better as the season went on, and we didn’t want to peak in January. We want to peak at the time we’re peaking right now. We want to continue to get better even going into this last week.”
Coach Mick Cronin’s team is just the second, after Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, to advance to the Final Four from the First Four. The Bruins have won five straight games in this tournament — including victories over No. 1-seeded in Michigan and No. 2-seeded in Alabama — after losing four consecutive games before the tournament.
Yet the Bruins (22-9) will enter the national semifinals as a huge underdog, with many major betting sites listing Gonzaga as a 14-point favorite and heavy betting action on the Bulldogs.
“They’re going to have to keep it close and put game pressure on them somehow,” said Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley, who, as a player, helped Duke knock off U.N.L.V. in the national semifinals in 1991 before winning the championship. “Gonzaga’s been able to build big leads on teams that have been insurmountable.”
One crucial matchup to watch will be Gonzaga’s Drew Timme against U.C.L.A. center Cody Riley. The 6-foot-10 Timme excelled against Southern California’s Evan and Isaiah Mobley in the Elite Eight en route to 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The 6-foot-9 Riley, a junior averaging 9.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, will have to find a way to make life difficult for Timme, who loves to pass from the post to open teammates on the perimeter.