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Couch: Tonight’s NCAA Title Game Can’t Top Zags’ Lucky Shot

It was a lucky shot. It was. I’m sorry. I’ve spent the past day and a half trying to talk myself out of thinking that way. In a world of Steph Curry making three-pointers from different zip codes, I can almost get there.

I mean, Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs did basically square up and shoot from over his head, not heave or chuck from his chest. I can almost accept a shot from just inside the halfcourt line at the buzzer to win in overtime. But a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to win in overtime. . .that banked off the backboard first?

I’m sorry, but that bank is one step too far. I mean that shot wouldn’t have even counted in H-O-R-S-E.

Suggs’ 40-foot shot to beat UCLA is going to be remembered as The Moment of this NCAA Tournament, no matter what happens tonight in the national championship game between Gonzaga and Baylor. If Gonzaga is truly going to go down as a historic champion, maybe even the single-season GOAT of college basketball, then it needed to have a moment.

No one remembers steamrollers.

But what about Suggs’ shot against UCLA, something we’re going to see every year now for possibly the rest of our lives? Because while the entire college basketball season finally had something to hang on to, I immediately tweeted, “That was such a great game. I know the end was thrilling, but to me winning on a lucky bank from halfcourt is a little unfortunate.”

FoxSports1s Skip Bayless went a step further, tweeting, “Pure Luck.’’ And, “No idea how you can call that an all-time great college basketball game when it was won by a lucky shot.’’

Twitter then exploded. But Bayless’ job is to make Twitter explode, and he did it well. And sports Twitter’s job is to explode over Bayless.

It’s really just a little dance.

We remember last-second heroics as a sign of greatness. Michael Jordan’s buzzer-beaters. In the NCAA Tournament, Christian Laettner’s. Or in football, a Hail Mary.

Years ago, Colorado beat Michigan on a 64-yard Hail Mary thrown by quarterback Kordell Stewart. Luck? Of course. But also, Michigan didn’t even try to pressure Stewart, so he had all day to run around in the backfield while his receivers got downfield. Michigan let that luck happen.

Luck comes in varying degrees, and people today don’t tend to sit around for two hours and watch an entire game. If you did, then you saw that Gonzaga-UCLA Saturday was clearly one of the all-time great games. But a lot of people only know that because people have told them so. They needed something to verify that, preferably something that fits into their 30-second attention span and that they can watch on social media. They needed Suggs’ play.

I’ve never been a huge believer in luck, actually. My dad used to tell me that you find luck at 2 a.m. in the library, meaning that you make your own luck through hard work, research or whatever.

Of course, he also said that some people do win the lottery.

Suggs’ shot was closer to the library than to the lottery. He did the right things to make his luck happen. And UCLA did nothing to stop it. Suggs had 3.3 seconds, getting the ball on an inbound pass from under UCLA’s basket. UCLA did not defend the pass, did not hinder him from sprinting up the court.

He got his feet right to get his legs into the shot. He had his hands right too. Suggs made his luck happen.

“We made a lucky one at the end,’’ Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “But I’m just telling you, he makes those ones all the time in practice. . .I knew when he shot it, it was going in.’’

These deeper and deeper shots are becoming part of the game. Charlotte’s LaMelo Ball was clearly going to be the NBA’s rookie of the year before he fractured his wrist. When Ball was a kid, his dad, Lavar, used to tell him to work on halfcourt shots.

In fact, when LaMelo was in high school, he actually made national news once — thanks to video and social media — because he had a halfcourt shot blocked.

It was an embarrassing moment for the Ball family, actually, after Lavar’s incessant bragging about how unstoppable his kids are. No one has a halfcourt shot blocked.

I remember texting Lavar a day or two later that he shouldn’t be embarrassed at all because there is only one reason any defender would risk fouling someone on a halfcourt shot:

He worried the shooter might actually make it. LaMelo might actually be the only person anyone would bother trying to fully defend from halfcourt.

Lavar liked that, of course.

So now college basketball has the national championship game it has been angling for all year: Gonzaga and Baylor. Everyone has known all year that these were the two best teams (I know, I know. I said Illinois would win), and now Suggs’ shot even gave this game some needed hype.

Who knows what will happen tonight? But if it involves a bank shot, you have to call “glass’’ first.

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Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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  1. I would agree with your dad even in this case. You make your won luck and at the very least improve your odds by making good choices.

    First, of all the team was well coached and prepared enough to know what do do in that situation. No timeouts. Catch the ball running to the basket and go as fast you can. When Suggs received the ball he was smart enough to watch the clock the entire time. Other guards would have panicked and launched immediately. He got to about 33 feet ways and launched a shot putting as much touch as he could on it, as his body’s momentum was thrusting him forward.

    All the little things Suggs did and preparation by Few dramatically increased the chances of that shot going down. In the end, I see as 60% skill 40% luck but given the magnitude of the moment and what as stake this was one of the most clutch moments in sports history.

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