The mood was subdued Monday night as Gonzaga University students watched their men’s basketball team struggle to score against Baylor for the NCAA championship.
The students kept the faith as long as they could, but in the end Gonzaga was not able to add a national title to its distinguished resume.
The 400 students allowed inside the McCarthey Athletic Center, affectionately known as The Kennel, wore their best festive attire for the event. Zags shirts and masks were nearly universal, but some groups wore matching outfits, and at least one person was sporting horns and a cape.
The students registered online for the right to attend the watch party. Brandon Duff noted the irony of Gonzaga facing Baylor, since the two teams had tried to play each other earlier in the year before a positive COVID test derailed the game. “It’s interesting because we were supposed to play them and never did,” he said.
Natalie Chan said she thought the Zags would finally win their first national championship. “I have 100 percent faith in our Zags,” she said.
Senior Claire Snoke said she thought Baylor would be a good opponent. “I honestly think it’s just as high or low as ours,” she said of their chance to win. “I think it will be a good game.”
She was just happy to be able to watch a basketball game in the Kennel one more time. “No matter what happens, it’s our last game,” she said.
The crowd was revved up by an appearance by the mascot, Spike, and the cheer squad before the game, but the boos started immediately as Baylor jumped out to a 9-0 lead. Gonzaga’s first 3-pointer was like a tonic to the crowd, but the Zags continued to struggle for every point.
With about five minutes to go before the half, the team started to find its groove and chip away at Baylor’s big lead. The students recognized the shift and started cheering a little louder. The score was 47-37 in Baylor’s favor at half time, but the students continued to believe.
“It’s been a little stressful,” said Lizzie Vosler. “I’m hoping for a better second half. They’ve picked it up.”
Though the Zags were down, they know how to fight back, she said. “We’ve been down further before and come back, even in this season,” she said.
Sadira Walker agreed. “It’s 10 points,” she said. “We’re a second-half team. We got this.”
Sean Vietri acknowledged that Baylor was playing well in the first half. “Baylor is a great program, but we’re the most effective offense,” he said. “We’re No. 1 for a reason.”
Tyler Gonzalez said it was discouraging to see Baylor fire right back whenever Gonzaga managed to score. “If we come out like I know we can in the second half, it will be smooth sailing,” he said. “Gonzaga’s about to make a run.”
And Gonzaga’s players did come out of the locker room determined. The students cheered repeatedly as they pulled off plays and scored points. But the run Gonzaga tried to mount fizzled and the crowd of students became subdued as Baylor’s lead increased. When the final score of 86-70 went up, the students clapped for the team that nearly made it to the top before quietly leaving the Kennel.
“It’s heartbreaking, obviously,” said senior Parker Seeberger. “I was hoping so much for a win. However, I’m proud that this is our second national championship (game) ever.”
Kelly Kern said she’ll remember Saturday’s semifinal game as a highlight. “Saturday night’s game will go down in history, so at least we have that to hold on to,” she said.
Ciaira Patterson gave voice to what everyone was probably thinking. “It should have been us,” she said.
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