Indianapolis— Gonzaga was playing its best basketball throughout the tournament and on the verge cutting down the nets.
But Baylor had another plan for the Bulldogs.
The Zags — who had everything clicking from the season’s tip off — ended their season with a Monday night’s 86-70 loss to Baylor in the NCAA championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Bulldogs missed the opportunity in becoming the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana won it in 1976, as well as the program’s first national title.
“You try to do everything within your power to flip the switch,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “But yeah, it was tough. When they’re consistently just more aggressive on both ends, it was hard to generate rhythm. We’d score a couple of times, we couldn’t ever get consecutive stops to kind of close some gaps. Then we didn’t help ourselves — we turned the ball over, we missed free throws.”
The Bears jumped on the Zags and Jalen Suggs from the start, Baylor raced out to a 9-0 lead.
Corey Kispert, an Associated Press first-team All-American, didn’t get many open looks finished with just 12 points and two 3-pointers. Drew Timme chipped in 12 but got just seven shots while getting into second-half foul trouble and was dealing with an injury in the game.
Gonzaga (31-1) shot 51% but finished with a season-low 70 points after averaging a national-best 91.6 points. The Zags struggled with uptempo pace and the Bears physicality.
The Zags struggled to get clean looks early or make shots beyond the arc and couldn’t create space on the court to run their offense effectively. The Bulldogs couldn’t keep the Bears off the boards and kept committing turnovers which turned into transition points.
Halfway through the first half, the Zags found themselves down 19 and down by 10 at the break (47-37).
“They’re just not letting you do the things you normally do,” Kispert said. “I’m so used to kind of if that happens, we take that punch and move on and kind of get on with the game and fight back really a lot quicker than we did. I’m kind of used to that reaction time being a little quicker.”
In the second half, the Bulldogs trimmed the lead to 9 points. Two buckets, two free-throws, a trey and 94 seconds later, the Bears lead had balloned to 16.
Just two nights before the championship, the Zags had prevailed in one of the most exciting games in the history of the N.C.A.A.’s men’s tournament, a 93-90 heart stopper against U.C.L.A. But on Monday, Baylor just dominated the Zags on both sides of the court.
Suggs was in foul trouble early in the game, eventually returned and finished with a team-high 22 points, 15 coming after halftime. The problem was that the Bulldogs never could seemed to get everyone in sync as they had all season, and it had them looking at a huge deficit just about all game.
When it got to 58-49, it soon got to 73-53.
Baylor’s shooting was imperfect — indeed, Gonzaga made a greater share of its shots but got clobbered on the glass. Jared Butler, a junior guard, led the Bears with 22 points, his record for this year’s tournament. MaCio Teague had 19 of his own. Baylor had 16 second-chance points and 21 from its bench.
Baylor under Coach Scott Drew, the Bears has been building a legitimate program. The Bears had reached the round of 16 five times since 2010, and the round of 8 three times. It was not until this season, though, that Baylor rolled into the Final Four for the first time since 1950. The last time Baylor played for a championship was in 1948, Kentucky beat them 58-42, in the title game.
“Well, hey,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said, “it’s a really, really tough one to end a storybook season, but listen, Baylor just beat us. They beat us in every facet of the game tonight.”
Gonzaga made just 5 of 17 3-pointers, their lowest total of the six NCAA Tournament games. And the Zags struggled all night with the Bears playing aggressive defense that implied a lack of fear of being beaten off the dribble drive penetration.