The fresh-as-can-be Baylor obliterated wobbly-legged Gonzaga’s march to perfection Monday night in an 86-70 runaway that brought this once-downtrodden program’s first national title back home to Waco, Texas.
Jared Butler scored 22 points and MaCio Teague had 19 for the Bears (28-2), who were ranked second or third in the AP poll all year long but never first, all because of one team.
Pounding the offensive glass and scrapping for and winning the lion’s share of the 50-50 balls, Baylor never let the game come down to a Jalen Suggs miracle. The Gonzaga freshman’s buzzer-beater from near the half-court logo got the Zags to the final in a game that stood as their first true test of the season. They passed against UCLA. Against Baylor? Not even close.
After running to a 19-point lead early, the Bears never let Gonzaga get any closer than nine. Guard Davion Mitchell nicknamed “Off Night” because so many opponents encounter one when they go against him finished with 15 points and did his best on Suggs. The freshman finished with 22 points, most of them after the Zags were well into desperation mode and he will most likely be heading to the NBA lottery next.
Gonzaga’s first loss in 32 games this season leaves Indiana’s 1975-76 team as the last to go undefeated. If Bob May, Quinn Buckner and the rest of coach Bob Knight’s team were keeping champagne cold to celebrate they could have uncorked it by halftime.
Baylor were up 9-0 after three minutes and the Bulldogs faced only their fourth double-digit deficit of the season at 11-1. They faced their biggest deficit of the season – 15 points – with 7:10 gone. By then, Suggs had two fouls and was watching from the bench.
He tried hard to breathe some fire into his teammates, or the Zags fans who made about as much noise as the cardboard cutouts that were scattered through Lucas Oil Stadium to make it seem full.
“Let’s …. go!” Suggs screamed after he got fouled on a layup early in the second half. He missed the free throw.
But more than anything in the title game, it was Suggs’ memorable basket two nights earlier that laid the groundwork for this one. His bank shot at the buzzer capped one of the most riveting college basketball games ever. Back on the floor less than 48 hours after that emotional roller coaster, it was clear the Zags were gassed.
It’s the culmination of an 18-year rebuild for Baylor, the likes of which no program has ever seen. Coach Scott Drew took over a roster with only seven scholarship players and a team staring at years of NCAA probation in the wake of the murder of player Patrick Dennehy by a teammate in 2003. The Bears won only 21 games over Drew’s first three years.