Advertisement
Share

Jim Nantz provides GOAT perspective on Jalen Suggs’ UCLA-killing buzzer-beater

Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs celebrates with teammates.
Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs celebrates with teammates after making a last-second shot in overtime to lift the Bulldogs over UCLA on Saturday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

How big was the stunning ending of Gonzaga’s overtime victory against UCLA on Saturday night?

CBS announcer Jim Nantz sees it as this generation’s Laettner moment, a reference to Duke star Christian Laettner draining a buzzer-beating, turn-around jump shot to beat Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final.

Nantz, his head still spinning from the wild Gonzaga win, spoke Sunday morning to The Times about the moments that keep replaying in his head. In his words:

When you have a game like that, I think the important thing that’s overlooked is that you need to put things in a context as soon as you can, so that you can start the overall narrative of the moment and not leave it up to people later on to come to the conclusion that it was one of the biggest moments in the history of college basketball.

Advertisement

There are so many thoughts circling in your head when something like that happens. There’s a part of it that feels like it’s in slow motion, and yet it’s really only three seconds.

I’ve seen the replay twice now. Once on the postgame show, when we came back and played the entire call and sequence, and then once I had it on my phone. I had so many people send me the clip, but I only watched it once. I want to go back a little bit later on and get some space and distance from the moment and see what it would have felt like without it being so raw on the mind.

But it’s been replayed in my head hundreds of times, and as we talk here, we’re not even 12 hours removed from it. It’s one of those loops that just kind of keeps going back, back to Johnny Juzang in the lane, putting up the shot, rebounding his own miss and then tying the game with the put-back. I see all of that.

What I see there, and I’d have to go back and confirm it, but there’s the slightest millisecond of a hesitation on UCLA’s part, the realization the game has just been tied and in all likelihood sent to double-overtime. It is that little beat, almost immeasurable but it was there, that allowed Gonzaga to go.

It’s one thing Mark Few said to us leading up to the game on a Zoom call. He said: “We’re always ready to go. We’re going to inbound and we’re going. And that ball got inbounded so quickly that, if I’m right in my analysis, UCLA was just caught in that flicker of euphoria. Just being on its heels. Advancing in their mind the game going to double-overtime.

That’s all it took for Jalen Suggs to go unimpeded, uninterrupted to midcourt in a flash, to then put up the shot after taking one last dribble and one last step, and get into perfect jump-shot mode to knock down one of the epic shots in the history of the game. It’s played over and over again in the mind. One of these days it will be fun to actually watch it on a television screen.

Man, how lucky to have been there in Indianapolis on that night.

Advertisement

UCLA’s roster for next season could look similar to this season’s roster, which was a buzzer-beater shot short of reaching the national championship game.

When Juzang had the put-back, I said something like, “He ties the game with three. ...” It’s just racing. I said something like, “Gonzaga still has time to do something. It’s for the win.” And then of course he banked it in.

Instincts told me that I had to frame the moment. Too much is made out of these calls. You study all week, you prepare for a lifetime to be in these moments. I’ve been fortunate to have been around quite a few. I think it has a lot to do with longevity and luck. I’ve been in place to see some pretty historic moments.

UCLA guard Johnny Juzang looks to pass between Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, left, and guard Jalen Suggs.
UCLA guard Johnny Juzang looks to pass between Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, left, and guard Jalen Suggs during the second half of the Final Four of the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis on Saturday.
(Michael Conroy / Associated Press)

Advertisement

It’s way more than just preparing to get excited and exclaim in a game-winning moment. I’ve always felt what’s undervalued is recall, context and perspective. Where did this game rank? What did this mean? Somewhere in there, after the shot dropped, there was an allusion to Gonzaga’s perfect season is still on go. That’s what I’m most proud of, because in the call was the context.

Anybody can scream. I don’t want to be measured on who can scream the loudest or who can be the most bizarre in shattering the glass ceiling. We all can. That moment deserved it. I’ve got two guys sitting next to me who are absolutely fantastic who shared in the call and in the moment with me, and it was just glorious. It was wonderful to have that together as a team. With that, though, the moment needed to have context in the immediate aftermath, I mean just seconds after it goes in.

Through a trying season, through a challenging moment in world history, sport has always been a valued form of escapism for people, particularly in this country. This country was starved for the NCAA Tournament to come back into their living rooms. And there’s all kinds of hope and optimism this week. We’ve reached the spring season and the vaccinations are being administered to the tune of 3 million jabs a day. There’s hope. Hey, here we are talking on this ultimate day of hope. But it’s just such a good feeling that the tournament is back. Baylor and Gonzaga, four months to the day of their original scheduled matchup, from Dec. 5 to April 5, now playing for the championship. It typifies the uniqueness of the season and the adversities we’ve all faced.

Advertisement

In all that, college basketball delivers a gift to the fan that is in this for a form of escapism. The fans who do center a large part of their lives around an event like this. The tournament delivered.

This was a boost for college basketball. This was this generation’s Christian Laettner moment. Last night’s moment is going to live forever. It’s huge.

After the game, not even a minute later, I’m standing next to [CBS analyst] Grant Hill, who threw the inbounds pass to Laettner. That was 29 years ago. My instincts are saying, this is as big as that, if not bigger. Suggs’ was a longer shot. It was to get into the championship game, not to get into the Final Four. It’s on that list.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. This is my 30th Final Four call, my 30th championship game coming up. The instincts were saying, this was Laettner and maybe bigger. I brought Grant in to comment on that. Raf [analyst Bill Raftery] commented on that. They couldn’t disagree.

Advertisement

Then I had one other thought, and that was Gordon Hayward, [the Butler guard who nearly upset Duke in the 2010 tournament with a last-gasp, half-court bank shot that almost went in]. To have been there, to have seen the Hayward Heave, taken just steps in front of our broadcast position. I was calling the game with Clark Kellogg. We were on that side of the court. He launched it from the right side, right on the midcourt stripe. We had the perfect sight line. We had the angle. We could see that it was headed toward the basket.

That one also banked. It banked and it was probably, if you really did the math on it, it was probably a quarter-inch too long. It hit the backboard, it hit the front of the rim, it teetered for just a second, then it fell off the front of the rim. Had it been a quarter of an inch lower on the glass, it would have gone in identically to the way it did last night. I felt that needed to be raised.

“And that was here in Indianapolis, in this building that we watched the Hayward Heave almost drop. And tonight, this time it goes.” It’s some pretty neat symmetry.

Advertisement

For now, I’m going to shut off the playback machine and get lost in this important day for a few hours.


Advertisement