Michael Arace: How can we possibly top the way Gonzaga, UCLA marked time Saturday night?

Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs celebrates as teammate Andrew Nembhard approaches after Suggs made the game-winning basket against UCLA in overtime Saturday.

Saturday night, sometime in the second half of the Gonzaga-UCLA game, you had to start thinking about whether this NCAA semifinal was one of the greatest college basketball games ever played. 

By the time Jalen Suggs stepped over midcourt and hit a running, three-point, buzzer-beating jumper to give Gonzaga a 93-90 victory at the end of overtime, you had no doubt. 

NCAA men's basketballDid UCLA expose cracks in undefeated Gonzaga as title game with Baylor looms?

And if you were a sentient being 29 years ago, you were putting it in the same echelon — maybe just ahead, maybe a smidge behind — Duke-Kentucky.  

That blue-blooded East Regional Final from March 28, 1992, is sometimes referred to as “The Greatest Basketball Game Ever Played.” It has staked a claim to “The Shot” — Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper from just above the free-throw line, fed by an 80-foot pass by Grant Hill. 

Of course, such honorifics, with their capital letters and quote marks, are purely subjective. How many basketball games have been played since 1891, when James Naismith nailed a peach basket to on a balcony in a gym in Springfield, Massachusetts? 

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs takes the game-winning shot against UCLA on Saturday.

I saw a list that placed the 1985 NCAA title game, in which Villanova played a perfect game and toppled goliath Georgetown, as the seventh-greatest college basketball game ever — and placed the 1974 ACC title game No. 2. An ACC title game? Please. 

Michael Arace

Was that better than the “Game of the Century” — Elvin Hayes and Houston beating Lew Alcindor and UCLA in the Astrodome in 1969? Or Notre Dame’s 71-70 victory over UCLA in 1974, when the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak was snapped? Digger Phelps made a career out of that one game, just as Jim Valvano made a career out of NC State’s mega-upset of Houston and Phi Slama Jama in the 1983 championship game. 

“The Greatest” is a matter of demographics. Like, Olmecs, Aztecs or Incas — what was the greatest civilization ever? I like the Romans but, then, I am biased.

We mark time with birthdays, weddings and funerals. The big stuff. We also mark time with sports.

UCLA guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. gets a hug from Gonzaga forward Drew Timme after Saturday's game.

If you were alive in 1980, you remember where you were when the Miracle on Ice happened in Lake Placid. If you were a sentient being in 1992, you remember where you were when Laettner beat Kentucky. And if you are from Kentucky, you can now get Laettner out of your mind, because Suggs is the new face of NCAA history. At the very least, CBS can now cut by a half the ever-running loop of Laettner daggers every March. 

I was courtside at the 1990 Eastern Regional in East Rutherford, N.J., when UConn’s Tate George took a 93-foot baseball pass from Scott Burrell and hit a turnaround three to beat the Duo of Doom, Elden Campbell and Dale Davis, and the Clemson Tigers. Next game, with a trip to the Final Four on the line, Laettner hit a leaning 18-footer to beat the Huskies at the buzzer. 

Those games are not ranked in the top 10 by any of the 13,243 websites which specialize in ranking such things. Yet, they were something. Twice in my career have I risen out of my seat at the press table, without even knowing I was doing it. The first time was the occasion of George's turnaround jumper. The other time was when Michael Jordan, in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals, drove the lane for a right-handed dunk, noticed James Worthy coming to help from the weakside, switched hands in mid-air and rolled in a left-handed layup. 

Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs celebrates after sinking a buzzer-beating three-pointer to defeat UCLA on Saturday.

Saturday night, I shot up from my Archie Bunker chair when Suggs' three banked through the hoop. Over on the couch, a 20-year-old issued a primal yaw. I joined him.

Sunday morning, someone called to say they were at a refreshment establishment in the Short North — and everyone in the joint was yelling at the TV. Afterwards, as the bars emptied, there was a palpable buzz on the street. 

Gonzaga-UCLA marked time. The only bad part about the game was lack of more overtimes. Did you want at least one more?

Like Villanova in 1985, UCLA played a near-perfect game against a prohibitive favorite — only this time, the underdog lost. 

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang scores in overtime against Gonzaga on Saturday.

No. 1-seed Gonzaga took the best punch No. 11 UCLA — or any team — could throw. And the Zags won by TKO in OT. 

The game conjured 1992, when Laettner went 10-for-10 from the floor and 10-for-10 from the free-throw line. That night, Duke and Kentucky combined for 47 assists on 71 made baskets. Saturday night, Gonzaga and UCLA combined for 46 assists on 71 baskets. Is there a better measure of beautiful basketball than that golden ratio?

Which is the greatest game ever? This can be said: In a largely empty football stadium in Indianapolis, amid a pandemic, a 45-minute highlight reel was packaged for posterity — and as the years pass, we will see these snippets, and we will remember all the great, clutch plays, and where we were when Suggs wrapped it.

Gonzaga vs. Baylor

When: 9 p.m. Monday

TV: CBS (Ch. 10)

Radio: WBNS-FM (97.1)