All Ball Sports: UCLA From Now to Eternity; Mustangs break through; Sea Hawks emulate UCLA in final seconds

Robert Baker kicks a field goal to help Redondo gain a 14-13 lead over Palos Verdes last Friday. But with four seconds left in the game Palos Verdes’ Kevin Rahman kicked a field goal to claim the victory Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor        

Three seconds.

That’s how long it took for UCLA fans to go from jumping for joy to stunned silence.

Still, for three wonderful, memorable seconds, Bruins fans knew the meaning of pure ecstasy.

The hero: Bruins sophomore guard Johnny Juzang, who tied the big game at 90-90 with three seconds left.

The villain: Gonzaga’s freshman guard Jalen Suggs, who took three dribbles up-court and launched a 40-foot buzzer-beater that banked in with zero seconds left.

That shot has ensured Suggs’ place in hoops history. His miracle shot will be shown over and over during every March Madness show from now to eternity. That’s how dramatic, how memorable and how thrilling it was for everyone — except Bruins fans.

For them, it was utterly devastating.

But the bitterly disappointing finish to UCLA’s epic loss Saturday night won’t hide the reality: This was arguably the best college basketball game – ever. And UCLA’s grit and determination were a huge part of why it was so great and so memorable.          

The eleventh seeded Bruins knew they had to play a perfect game to beat undefeated and top-seeded Gonzaga in the NCAA semifinals. That’s why the Zags were favored by 14 points, according to the Las Vegas bookies.

Unfortunately for the Bruins and their many alumni and fans throughout the Beach Cities, they only played a near-perfect game — and lost 93-90 in overtime.

Despite the Bruins loss, the instant classic was also the best college basketball game anyone – from Charles Barkley to LeBron James to All Ball – could ever remember watching.     

Better than the 1992 Christian Laettner buzzer beater game when Duke beat Kentucky, because that was only a regional final and only a 20-foot shot.

Better than the 1983 North Carolina State over Houston Final game because that was a low-scoring affair won on an airball that was put back in the basket at the buzzer.

And better than the 1991 Duke win over undefeated UNLV because UNLV choked away that game.

There was no choking in the Zags overtime victory – by either team.                                                                    

Just big play after big play. Tough shot after tough shot. There were 15 lead changes and 10 ties. That’s how excruciatingly close it was, what a dizzying roller-coaster ride it was for both sides.

There was even some great defense played, like when the Bruins bulky, bruising center Cody Riley powered his way to the hoop for a dunk that would have put them ahead late in regulation. Instead, the 6-foot-4 Suggs leaped in from the side and got a piece of the ball to deny the 6-foot-9 Riley his chance to be a game winning hero. Suggs then completed the play by throwing a 50-foot bounce pass that passed three Bruins and found a teammate in dead stride for a big layup.

For UCLA, a star was born in shooting guard Johnny Juzang who led his team with 29 points, just as he led his team in scoring throughout their memorable six-game tournament run with a 23-point average.

Now Bruins fans have to hope that the sophomore who transferred from Kentucky last year is mature enough to reject the advice of the 5-percent agents and random hangers-on who are going to urge him to declare for the NBA draft in June.

That would be a mistake for him, and for this remarkable Bruins team being built piece by piece by second-year Head Coach Mick Cronin. As good as Juzang is already, he’s not quite ready for the Darwinian jungle that is the NBA.

His skill set is good enough to make the leap, but he’s not physically developed enough to compete night after night for 82 games against grown men fighting for their jobs and the money to feed and house their families. Most of the European leagues and the NBA’s minor league G-League are filled with good players similar to Juzang who came out of college too early and never reached their full potential before trying for the NBA.

Nor is he mentally ready to take on that challenge. The best illustration of that came at the end of regulation with the game tied. The Bruins grabbed the rebound off a Gonzaga miss with 15 seconds left and quickly got the ball to Juzang, their best scorer, without calling timeout to set up a play.

That put all the pressure on Juzang to make a play, make a good decision and create a good shot either for himself or a teammate.

But with a golden opportunity to win the game right in front of him, he danced around, dribbled back and forth while the clock ticked down, and finally in desperation tried to power his way to the hoop. Gonzaga’s star forward Drew Timme could see what was coming, stepped into the path he knew Juzang was taking, and drew a charging call. Bruins fans howled that it should have been a blocking foul on Timme, but the replay showed that the refs made the right call: Timme simply beat Juzang to the spot he wanted to get to.

In the overtime, Timme scored the first six points and UCLA trailed by 5 with 57 seconds left. But the Bruins fought back yet again. When the Bruins’ other emerging star, Jaime Jaquez, drilled a cold-blooded 3 from the right corner, they were within 2 points. Gonzaga missed again, and the Bruins rushed down court with another chance to tie with a 2 or win with a 3.

Again, they got the ball to Juzang, and again he drove to the hoop. He missed the short shot, but was quick enough to grab the rebound and in one motion put it back in to tie the score at 90-90 with three seconds left. As the Zags inbounded the ball to Suggs with the entire 94-feet of court in front of him, double overtime loomed and the UCLA dream lived on.

The rest is hoops history. From now to eternity.

Afterwards, Gonzaga coach Mark Few admitted the game easily could have gone the other way: “We made a lucky one at the end,” he said.

Even the pros who have seen everything that can happen on a basketball court were impressed.                          

In the post-game show Charles Barkley quickly declared “That was one of the best college basketball games I’ve ever seen.” Then he thought about it for a minute and amended his judgement: “That was the best.”

LeBron joined in on Twitter: “Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Barkley’s side-kick, Kenny “The Jet” Smith agreed: “I’m just glad I was here tonight. UCLA played amazing.”

Coach Cronin, clearly devastated by the loss, came out of the locker room to share what he had just told his team. “I told them we gotta let that last shot go. It happened and now it’s over. I told them what Coach John Wooden used to say: true greatness is giving your best effort. They did that, so I couldn’t ask for anything more – except for a win. They deserved a better ending.”

That better ending could easily come next year. If Juzang stays, the Bruins should win the PAC-12 and quite possibly the NCAA Tournament.

As the post-pandemic world slowly returns to normal, UCLA is poised to assume its rightful place at the top of the college basketball pyramid.

And as long as Coach Cronin stays here, the Bruins will stay there.

P.S. It was no big surprise when Gonzaga got blown out by Baylor 86-70 in Monday night’s championship game. The cause and effect were obvious: UCLA had taken all the emotional energy and physical fight out of the Zags. They had nothing left just 48 hours after the Bruins had taken them to overtime in a slugfest that will live on from now to eternity.

 

Start spreading the news: fans return to Staples Center April 15

If you listened closely Saturday afternoon, you could hear cheers coming from every house in the Beach Cities that has an LA Lakers fan living there.

In other words, the cheering was coming from most houses. Even those with Clippers or Kings fans. They get to share in the great news too: fans will be allowed to watch the action at the Staples Center starting with the April 15 Lakers vs. Boston Celtics game.

Oh sure, it will be a vastly reduced number from the full-house crowds that showed up pre-pandemic for regular season games, to say nothing of the standing-room-only hordes that typically showed up for each and every playoff game. 

But still, it’s a large baby-step towards a return to normalcy. “We are incredibly excited that the state of California announced guidelines this week that will allow Lakers fans to return to Staples Center,” the Lakers said in a prepared statement. “Now that we have the guidance, we will work with LA County Public Health and Staples Center to finalize our plans to have fans safely attend our games starting with the Lakers vs. Celtics game on April 15.”

The rules are still being finalized, and may require fans to show proof of vaccination. If the teams decide to require proof, that would increase the percentage of seats allowed to be filled. It could range anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of capacity, depending on the final rules and health protocols.

The Clippers said they are making plans to have fans attend their April 18 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Kings said the same thing about their April 20 game with the Ducks.

For their part, the Ducks said they will have fans in the Honda Center in Anaheim starting with their April 16 game against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Let the normalcy begin.

RU loss 14-16

Mira Costa marches to victory; Redondo leads ’till final four

It was another crazy week in Bay League Football for both local teams. While Mira Costa finally got a W, this time it was Redondo’s turn to suffer a brutal last-second loss.

Mira Costa switched from the Air Raid offense it has used for the last season and a half to a ground-and-pound attack that paid off big-time with a 49-7 demolition of Santa Monica to record its first victory of a frustrating season. Costa’s record now stands at 1-3 overall and 1-2 in the Bay League. With Bay League newcomer Culver City and traditional powerhouse Palos Verdes both undefeated so far, neither local team has a shot at the League title in this pandemic-shortened season.

Costa, which has relied on quarterback Casey Pavlick to throw a blizzard of passes this year much as Slingin’ Sam Whitney did for them last year, pulled a 180 degree turn and relied almost exclusively on its running game to subdue Santa Monica.

The change of direction was clear from the first play from scrimmage. In the first quarter the Mustangs ran the ball 13 times and passed only twice.            

The result: three quick rushing TD’s. Ryan Moreno started it with an 8-yard run, Kage Geoghegan ran it in from 6 yards out, and soon Moreno added his second TD on a 19-yard scamper. The Mustangs then went back to the old formula when Pavlick uncorked a 31-yard TD pass to Riley Bloomstrand.

The ground-bound Mustangs kept rolling in the second quarter. Dean Repetti scored on a two-yard run and Zane Thormodsqaard tacked on a 10-yard run to give the Mustangs a 42-7 half-time lead.

Redondo, meanwhile, played their best game of the season but lost to Palos Verdes 16-14 when PV kicker Kevin Rahman split the uprights with a 42-yard kick with just four seconds left in the game. 

The two Bay League titans, PV and Culver City, will square off for the league title next week when PV comes down off The Hill to face the newest Bay League bully. Culver City and its star quarterback Zevi Eckhaus prepared for the clash by destroying Peninsula 49-0. 

Contact: teetor.paul@gmail.com Follow: @paulteetor ER

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Written by: Paul Teetor

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