Baylor Denies Gonzaga a Perfect Season, Winning N.C.A.A. Men’s Basketball Title

INDIANAPOLIS — There was a symmetry about Gonzaga’s arrival within the N.C.A.A. males’s basketball championship sport — the unbeaten Zags bidding to be the primary unblemished champion since Indiana, the state’s flagship basketball college, final achieved the feat in 1976.

That Gonzaga, the small Jesuit college tucked away within the Northwest on the much less urbane facet of the Cascade Range, rolled up with a freewheeling offense, one that may attraction to the basketball cognoscenti’s “Hoosiers” sensibilities, was all the higher.

A Gonzaga victory would have additionally put a bow on a weird season that was performed via the coronavirus pandemic, when about one in 5 video games — together with a first-round matchup on this match — have been known as off and a few groups went weeks with out with the ability to play.

Baylor, although, had different concepts, laying waste to these plans with a wrecking ball protection and a hail of Three-pointers, emphatically ruining Gonzaga’s bid for a good season on Monday night time with an 86-70 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium to assert this system’s first championship.

Baylor’s guard trio, marketed as the very best within the nation, was nearly as good as its billing with Jared Butler scoring 22 factors with 7 assists, Davion Mitchell including 15 factors and 5 assists, and MaCio Teague contributing 19 factors. And the Baylor protection held the Zags to a season-low level whole.

As the ultimate buzzer sounded, the Bears — who have been eradicated by Gonzaga within the second spherical two years in the past — bounded off the bench and onto the court docket, having vanquished the workforce that they had lengthy been eyeing.

“It’s harder to win it this year than ever before with the stoppages and testing and the sacrificing your social life just so you can play basketball games,” stated Butler, the match’s most excellent participant after athletes spent more than three weeks in an Indianapolis hotel, playing in front of diminished crowds and precluded from coming in contact with their families.

“Having no fans sometimes, it’s just hard to get up sometimes for these games,” Butler said.

He added: “It was really cool to say we did that in the midst of adversity, in the midst of tribulations, and to bring it home for Baylor, it’s amazing.”

As Baylor celebrated, Gonzaga’s players huddled in front of their bench, arms draped over each other’s shoulders coming to grips with an unfamiliar emotion, experiencing their first loss in 14 months.

The Zags looked out on their feet at the opening tip.

When the jumpball goes up at the start of a basketball championship game, the football stadiums where title events are now staged are typically pulsating with energy. But because of local health restrictions, this stadium floor was sheathed in half by a black curtain and only a little over 20 percent of the building’s seats were filled.

If the energy wasn’t supplied by the crowd, the Bears brought their own, scoring the first 9 points of the game and Gonzaga never drew closer than 8. Baylor, the best 3-point shooting team in the country during the regular season, met its standard by making 10 of 23 shots behind the arc. The Bears also dominated the boards, outrebounding Gonzaga by 38-22, and limited the breakneck Zags to 15 fast-break points.

“I never felt like we played with that weight all year,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. “I always felt like we were the aggressor and we were always — I call it attack mode. We just ran into a team tonight that was — they were the aggressor clearly.”

As Drew and Few were riding back to their hotel after a news conference, they joked about meeting again in April. Still, they tried furiously to reschedule the game, in part because of their obligation to broadcast partners but also because they thought such a matchup would generate attention on the sport when many viewers were focused on football.

They considered Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Mo., Phoenix and Sioux Falls, S.D. — also Fort Worth, Texas, though that was too close to a Baylor home game for Few.

“Our futile human plans,” Few called the arrangements.

Baylor kept pace with Gonzaga for three months until it was thrown off course by the coronavirus. The Bears, who won their first 18 games, didn’t play for 21 days beginning in early February. When they returned, they barely escaped against Iowa State, the last-place team in the Big 12 Conference, and then lost at Kansas. They recovered to win their next four games before being beaten by Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.

A lockdown defense had suddenly become leaky.

“You can’t be good at defense and not practice it for three weeks, four weeks, five weeks,” said Drew, whose team played so frequently when it returned that there was little time to practice until the week between postseason tournaments. At a time when coaches dial back on practice, Drew worked his players hard.

“Our players really bought in that our defense was slipping,” he said.

If Mitchell could neutralize Kispert, the Bears had the muscle, quickness and doggedness to handle everyone else. It quickly proved a shrewd assessment.

The Zags’ symphonic offense was knocked catawampus by Baylor’s relentless defense. And at the other end, Gonzaga’s defense offered scant resistance as a parade of Bears burst past their defenders leading to lay-ins and open, in-rhythm looks for the best 3-point shooting team in the country. Baylor made its first five 3-pointers and a little more than 7 minutes into the game had put Gonzaga in a 23-8 hole — its largest of the season.

“The start of the game was tremendous,” Butler said. “We didn’t look at the scoreboard — we just went out there and gave it our all.”

Such was a sign of Gonzaga’s desperation that the Zags — who found themselves behind by as many as 19 points — switched to a zone defense.

Each time Gonzaga surged in the second half, it could not string together enough stops to draw closer to the Bears. Suggs, after getting fouled on a layup for a pair of his team-high 22 points, exhorted the crowd and his teammates. But when Drew Timme picked up a pair of quick fouls, his third and fourth, and went to the bench with 11:36 left, it made the uphill climb even more arduous — and ultimately futile.

The feeling of falling short is a familiar one for Gonzaga, which lost to North Carolina in a taught final in 2017. Perhaps because this game wasn’t so close — or because of the extraordinary measures it took for college basketball to reach this point — Few maintained that the lone blemish would not ruin the season.

“Listen, I said you can’t go 31-0 and get to the last night and get beat and feel bad about it,” Few said, adding, “So I just said this will pass and you’ve got to give Baylor a ton of credit but just remember what an amazing, amazing year, what an amazing accomplishment even getting to this point it was.”

The point where an imperfect season fell short of a perfect ending.

Adam Zagoria, Gillian R. Brassil and Lauren Gewirtz contributed reporting.

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