Johnny Juzang poured in 28 points while playing most of the second half on a hurt ankle, and UCLA survived a series of nail-biting misses by top-seeded Michigan in the closing seconds for a 51-49 victory Tuesday night that made the Bruins the fifth No. 11 seed ever to reach the Final Four.
The Wolverines missed their final eight shots, including a 3-pointer by Mike Smith with a couple seconds left and another by Franz Wagner at the buzzer that sent the Bruins (22-9) flying off the bench in a wild celebration.
The team that backed into the tournament with four consecutive losses, needed overtime to beat Michigan State in the First Four and another overtime to beat Alabama was off to face overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday night.
“These guys get all the credit,” said UCLA coach Mick Cronin, who had never been to the Elite Eight much less the Final Four in 18 years as a college head coach. “Unbelievable heart, toughness. Nobody picked us. Nobody believed in us. That’s how we like it. Obviously we know our next assignment is tough, but their resiliency is unbelievable.”
After dictating the pace all game, eschewing the slick style of Michigan in favor of a rock fight, it only seemed fitting that the underdog Bruins would take it to the buzzer.
They were clinging to a 50-49 lead when Michigan called a timeout with 19 seconds to go, intending to set up a final shot. Juwan Howard set up an open 3-point look for cold-shooting Wagner, who missed most of everything, and Eli Brooks also missed a put-back before UCLA was able to corral the rebound.
It was merely the start of a chaotic finish.
“We worked extremely hard this year, coming down to one possession — that’s how it goes sometimes in the game of basketball,” Howard said. “There’s one or two possessions that can either help you or hurt you and for us, we came up short.”
The Wolverines quickly fouled and sent Juzang to the line, where he missed the second of his two free throws with 6.3 seconds left. Michigan grabbed the rebound and called another timeout, and Howard had Smith race up court and unload a good look from the wing that was halfway down before bouncing back out.
The buzzer sounded but the officials halted the Bruins’ celebration, putting a half-second back on the clock.
That was enough time for Michigan to inbound one last time to Wagner, who again let fly a 3-pointer that clanked off the iron — and finally gave the Bruins freedom to spring from their benches for their first Final Four trip since 2008.
“I’ve been trying to teach these guys how to win. Winners know why they win,” Cronin said. “They don’t worry about offensive struggles. They believe. They just keep defending, keep playing with heart, keep playing with toughness.”
Hunter Dickinson led the Wolverines (23-5) with 11 points, but nothing came easy for the Big Ten freshman of the year — or anyone else in maize and blue. They were 3 of 11 beyond the arc, shot 39% overall and couldn’t make the shot at the end.
The No. 1 seed in the East Region had confidently strolled onto the court about 30 minutes before officials even rolled out balls for pregame warmups. The Wolverines almost looked bored as they milled about, some listening to their music, others catching glimpses of the Southern California-Gonzaga game on the screens hanging over the court.
The Bulldogs won so easily it must have lulled them to sleep.
Instead of the crisp passing, unselfishness and eye-pleasing positionless basketball that carried Michigan to three easy wins in the tournament, there was sloppy ballhandling, off-balance jumpers and breakdowns on defense.
Then there was Juzang, who scored 14 of the Bruins’ first 16 points. Whether it was a step-back 3-pointer, floater in the lane or drive to the bucket, one of March’s breakout stars simply willed UCLA to a 27-23 halftime lead.
The Bruins quickly stretched it to 34-25 before Juzang twisted his right ankle during a rebounding scrum, sending him to the bench to get it taped. He was only out a couple minutes, but Michigan took advantage. Dickinson and Brooks each had back-to-back baskets, wiping out most of UCLA’s hard-earned lead.
Two programs quite familiar with college basketball’s biggest stage kept trading blows the rest of the way.
Gonzaga 85, USC 66
INDIANAPOLIS — Can anybody stop these guys?
For the 30th straight time this season, Gonzaga answered that question with a resounding “No.”
The Bulldogs got on a roll and put on a show, cruising into the Final Four with an 85-66 beatdown of a Southern California team that was nowhere near ready for what it ran into Tuesday night.
Drew Timme had 23 points and five rebounds and, after one dunk, pretended to slick down his handlebar mustache for the few thousand fans in the stands.
“This is a really, really big deal,” coach Mark Few said of the program’s return to the Final Four after a four-year hiatus. “And Zags know how to celebrate, OK?”
The top-seeded and top-ranked Bulldogs (30-0) will be the third team to bring an undefeated record into the Final Four since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The last team to go undefeated was Indiana in 1976. On Saturday in the national semifinals, the Zags will face 11th-seeded UCLA, which beat Michigan 51-49 in a later Elite Eight game.
In the early contest, Timme did whatever he wanted against the nation’s fourth-ranked defense — a team that won its first three tournament games by an average of 21 points — as did pretty much everyone else in a white uniform.
Jalen Suggs finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. All-American Corey Kispert had 18 points and eight boards on an “off” night — only 6 for 19 from the floor. Gonzaga shot 44% in the second half and “only” 50% for the game. That was five under its nation-leading average, but it didn’t matter much.
“We just tried to stay moving,” Suggs said about attacking the USC zone, which had been shutting down teams all month in Indy. “We didn’t let the ball get too sticky. We kept moving, flashing into the high post. It was a lot for them to deal with — good cuts off the baseline, vertical cuts off the wings.”
Blowouts are supposed to be boring, but this had the feel of a Globetrotters game at times, filled with fancy bounce passes through traffic, reverse layups, a swooping power dunk from Joel Ayayi (nine points) and the occasional post-basket flex from the 6-foot-10 Timme.
Gonzaga led sixth-seeded USC 7-0 after two minutes, 25-8 after 8:30 and 36-15 after Kispert took a nifty dish from Timme for an easy layup with 6:03 left in the half.
“It was a little surprising,” USC coach Andy Enfield said, “because we’d been playing great basketball.”
The Zags have a way about doing that to people.
They walked into the locker room at halftime ahead by 19 and with a big fat zero in the turnover column — a gold-standard stat for a team that thrives on offensive efficiency.
The last 20 minutes were extended garbage time — plenty of time for the Bulldogs to pad the stats.
They are a statistician’s dream — a team that came in No. 1 scoring (91.8), that has won 29 of its 30 games by double digits, and that wasn’t going to be slowed by the Brothers Mobley — Isaiah and Evan — who roam the middle for one of the country’s tallest teams (Average height, 6-7).
They both got theirs — Isaiah with 19 points and seven rebounds, and Evan with 17 and five — but the evening belonged to the Bulldogs.
“It’s such a special accomplishment, and to do it this year with as crazy as it’s been, as challenging as it’s been,” said Few, whose team had four games canceled in December because of COVID-19, but never lost its stride. “They’ve been unbelievable from Day 1.”
The game was interrupted by a frightening moment early, when official Bert Smith collapsed on the floor and had to be taken off in a wheelchair. In the second half, CBS passed along word that Smith was feeling OK and resting in the arena.
He was replaced by Tony Henderson, but there was no heavy lifting for the backup.
USC didn’t get closer than 16 in the second half, and though their intensity wandered at times, there was never any doubt the Zags would be returning to Lucas Oil Stadium later this week, two wins away from perfection.