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The other hero of Gonzaga's buzzer-beater: Coach Mark Few, who did nothing

Henry Bushnell
·3-min read

The other hero of Gonzaga's buzzer-beating victory over UCLA on Saturday night made his biggest decision of the season three seconds before Jalen Suggs let fly.

UCLA's Johnny Juzang had just tied a Final Four thriller with 3.3 seconds to play in overtime. The ball dropped gently through the net. And most college basketball coaches, in that exact moment, would have called timeout.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few didn't. He trusted his players. And his split-second decision enabled Suggs' magic.

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Few could have called timeout – he had one remaining. He could have convened his team, and drawn up a longshot play.

But, as he said postgame: "I don't like to call timeout in that situation, because I think you can make an open-court play better before they set up their defense."

And he's absolutely right.

A timeout would have allowed UCLA to hassle Gonzaga's inbounder; and prepare for any trickery; and position defenders to prevent the Zags from getting any momentum toward the rim.

Few's restraint, on the other hand, allowed Suggs to catch the ball with UCLA players retreating, their backs turned. It gave Suggs a runway up the floor.

(Screenshot: CBS)
(Screenshot: CBS)

It left UCLA coach Mick Cronin frantically gesturing – perhaps first for his players to sprint back, as they've been taught; then to stop the ball and trap Suggs.

But only one, David Singleton, was in any sort of position to do so. The other four Bruins were effectively out of the play.

As Suggs took his first dribble, Juzang, Jaime Jaquez and Cody Riley were still sprinting away from him.

(Screenshot: CBS | Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)
(Screenshot: CBS | Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

When Suggs rose for the game-winner two seconds later, Jaquez (No. 4) and Riley (2) still hadn't even gotten their hips turned toward the ball.

And that isn't an egregious error by any means. It's a natural product of the frenzy that Few's decision created.

(Screenshot: CBS | Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)
(Screenshot: CBS | Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

"I was running at my guys to get their attention to trap the ball," Cronin said postgame. "I got their attention late and they came up late. It’s not their fault, because we trained them to get back, get back, get back."

(Original video: CBS | Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)
(Original video: CBS | Illustration: Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

Few said he thought, ever so briefly, that he might have to call timeout if his players dawdled after Juzang's put-back. But the third hero of the play, Corey Kispert, immediately snatched the ball out of the net, before it could fall to the floor.

Suggs called for the ball – "Corey, Corey!" – and began curling up the floor as he caught it.

And that's where Few comes in again. His players know he prefers not to call timeout in that situation. They know he prefers to put the game in their hands. He's coached them to do just what Kispert and Suggs did.

"We've worked probably more on in-game situations this year than I ever have," Few said.

And once Kispert inbounded to Suggs, "I knew we were good," Few said. " 'Cause [the ball] was in Jalen's hands." 

"Man," Suggs said soon after. "That is something that you practice on your mini hoop as a kid, or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that – it's crazy."

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