INDIANAPOLIS – Gonzaga’s nightmare scenario started early. Two offensive rebounds and the first of Baylor’s frequent second-chance opportunities on its first possession.
Jalen Suggs sitting on the bench with two fouls after 3 minutes. The nation’s best offense struggling to get open looks. Drew Timme rarely touching the ball. The defense unable to stop Baylor inside or outside.
The Bears were nearly flawless, leaving Gonzaga stunned and trailing by 10 points after four minutes, by 19 after 13 minutes. Baylor answered every GU challenge the rest of the way.
Baylor put an emphatic end to the top-ranked Zags’ pursuit of an undefeated season, a national championship trophy and a place in history with an 86-70 victory Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Gonzaga starters exited with 1 minute left, received hugs from the coaches and then gathered at the end of the bench. An emotional Suggs, projected as an NBA lottery pick, and Corey Kispert embraced for most of the final minute while Baylor began celebrating the school’s first national championship in men’s basketball.
“You kind of forget, you really do forget what it’s like to lose and every time it happens it doesn’t feel good,” Kispert said. “Thankfully, I haven’t had many over my career. When you come up against a team like that, that’s firing on all cylinders, it’s really hard to compete with.”
The Zags (31-1) were attempting to become the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976, but it was clear in the opening minutes this wasn’t their night.
It’s the second time Gonzaga has stumbled on the final step. This one wasn’t nearly as close as the 71-65 loss to North Carolina in the 2017 title game.
Baylor (28-2) had a lot to do with that. The Bears made 10 3-pointers, owned the glass (16 offensive rebounds for 16 second-chance points) and held the Zags to a season-low 70 points.
“Gonzaga missed some shots that they probably normally make, but credit our guys for making everything difficult.” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Assistant coach (John) Jakus was on their staff (from 2015-17) and obviously familiar with the program. He had a great scouting report. Credit the players for executing it.”
Gonzaga’s start was suboptimal. The Zags looked a step slow at both ends of the court as Baylor bolted in front 11-1. By then, Suggs was parked on the bench with two fouls.
The margin reached 15 points on Adam Flagler’s 3-pointer with 13:35 left. The largest deficit Gonzaga had faced previously this season was 14 against BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game.
“They were just so much more aggressive,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We haven’t played like that this year. They literally busted us out of anything we could possibly do on offense. We were playing with our back to the basket, not facing up, and we couldn’t get anything generated to the basket. We were kind of playing sideways.
“On the other end, we had no answers as far as keeping some of their guards in front and we made a couple of mistakes we talked about not doing as far as giving them catch-and-shoot 3s or shake-down 3s. They made us pay in a hurry.”
Suggs returned and the Zags settled down on both ends over the final 7 minutes and closed with a 9-2 run to trim the halftime deficit to 47-37.
“We finally started rebounding and turning them over a little bit,” Kispert said. “And again, Baylor came out and punched us in the mouth in the second half, too.”
Butler hit a pair of 3s, one after another offensive rebound, as Baylor quickly rebuilt its lead to 15. The Zags pulled to within 58-49, but the Bears scored nine points in 80 seconds to go on top by 16.
Gonzaga didn’t help itself with errant free throws, costly turnovers or missed defensive assignments.
Baylor’s guards were as good as advertised. Butler, Teague, Flagler and Davion Mitchell combined for 69 of the team’s 86 points.
“Those guards are so quick and they can all get to their own shot,” Few said.
Suggs was Gonzaga’s most reliable weapon and finished with 22 points. Kispert and Timme both finished with 12 points, roughly seven below their average. Timme was limited to seven shot attempts and committed five turnovers.
It was just the sixth time this season that Gonzaga didn’t have at least four players score in double figures. The Zags made 51% of their shots compared to Baylor’s 45%, but the Bears’ work on the boards resulted in 18 more field-goal attempts.
“We were never consistently really able to get stops,” Few said. “They were terrific. And, quite frankly, they were terrific this whole weekend here at the Final Four.”
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