There aren’t many instances where a 7-foot tall 18-year-old with 300,000 social media followers and boundless abilities on a basketball court can relate to the average American, but Chet Holmgren experienced the evening of April 4 the same way almost every other Gonzaga fan did.
Holmgren and a group of friends who all had a unique personal connection to Gonzaga’s Final Four matchup with UCLA sat nervously in the basement of Holmgren’s Minnesota home as the Bulldogs and Bruins went blow for blow in overtime at Lucas Oil Stadium. UCLA was trailing 90-88 when Johnny Juzang rebounded his own miss and converted a layup to tie the game with three seconds left.
One moment, panic. The next, hysteria.
“Me and all my buddies were watching it in the basement and I’ve got video of it,” Holmgren said. “One of my buddies said, as soon as we saw Jalen get the ball, he was just like ‘be legendary.’”
Almost as if he was listening in, Jalen Suggs, a Minnesota native and longtime teammate/friend of Holmgren’s, took two steps past halfcourt and launched a 40-footer off the backboard and through the net to send his hometown buddies — and most of the nation, for that matter — into an uncontrolled frenzy.
“Then three seconds later he made the shot and everybody’s running around like crazy, screaming,” Holmgren said. “Nobody was really expecting that.”
Because Holmgren didn’t want to “add on to the pile of messages” Suggs would receive after the game — an experience Gonzaga’s newest freshman sensation is familiar with — he waited a few days to congratulate his friend and recap a moment that will forever live in college basketball lore.
“I already knew what was going to happen to his phone,” Holmgren laughed. “I’ve been there, so I just kind of let it be. Couple days later, reached out and talked to him.”
Holmgren, who committed to Gonzaga just two weeks later — the same day Suggs announced he was leaving for the NBA — will try to help the top-ranked Bulldogs secure a second consecutive win over the second-ranked Bruins during Tuesday’s Final Four rematch at T-Mobile Arena (7 p.m., ESPN), but understands it might be impossible to replicate the theatrics of the game that happened seven months earlier.
“It was a wild game,” Holmgren said. “Obviously I have a personal connection to that game, still kind of gives me chills thinking about the last seconds of it, but that’s kind of what I’m expecting this year, a fun game where both teams are going at it, nobody’s backing down. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“The shot” has come up in media sessions for both programs in the days, weeks and months leading up to Tuesday’s showdown in Vegas. Last week, Gonzaga coach Mark Few replayed the moment for his kids at home and sent Suggs, now a rookie for the Orlando Magic, a short video of their reaction.
“Just to get him fired up,” Few said.
The pregame hype video played at home games in the Kennel this year also features a clip of Suggs’ shot, as if the majority of Gonzaga students, alums and current players haven’t gone back to watch the moment on loop during their own time.
“It was the game of the year, that’s what I remember,” Gonzaga freshman guard Nolan Hickman said. “The game of the year.”
A Bleacher Report video featuring the game’s final sequence has already been seen more than 940,000 times, though it’s unlikely any of the views can be traced back to a laptop or phone belonging to Mick Cronin. Inevitably, UCLA’s coach has relived the Final Four loss in media interviews and Cronin spent time in the offseason analyzing the game film to see how it can help the Bruins in 2021-22.
As for the shot? Cronin hasn’t seen Suggs’ buzzer-beater since he watched the final seconds unfold in person from UCLA’s sideline, standing no more than 25 feet from where Gonzaga’s freshman guard hoisted the deep 3-pointer that ended an improbable Final Four run for the 11th-seeded Bruins.
“Zero,” Cronin told local reporters during an Oct. 4 media availability when asked how many times he’s gone back to watch the shot. “When I study film, I just hit pause right there. When Johnny scores to tie it, I hit pause. It’s the beauty, when you’re in my position you’re going to have to learn how to watch things that matter. There’s nothing else we could’ve done. I know I was running at halfcourt to tell guys to come in, it’s over, nothing you can do about it.
“Things that don’t matter: social media comments, half-court bank shots. Nothing I’m going to learn from watching that.”
ESPN’s Dick Vitale will be on the call for Tuesday’s rematch, alongside Dave O’Brien. During a phone interview with The Spokesman-Review Monday morning to discuss his return to the court after recovering from melanoma and lymphoma, Vitale, who watched last year’s Final Four from his home in Florida, described his reaction to Suggs’ historic moment.
“I was home obviously watching and it was just do dramatic, you just can’t believe it. Can’t believe it, can’t believe it. Just incredible,” Vitale said. “… It was just one of the most dramatic shots I’ve ever seen in my life, especially with so much pressure.”