All of a sudden, Gonzaga had life.
The Bulldogs’ national title game experience had mostly been a disaster for the first 25 minutes as they staggered and stumbled under a relentless, oppressive Baylor attack, on both ends of the floor. But the Zags persevered, and after two free throws by Anton Watson and a layup by Andrew Nembhard, suddenly the Bulldogs trailed only by single digits.
That felt like a major victory itself. Remember, they fell behind 9-0 in the opening minutes and spent most of the first half with phrases like “largest deficit of the season” being tossed around by the CBS announcing crew. Even as much as the game was a struggle, a nine-point deficit felt like a surmountable obstacle for a Gonzaga offense that was the best in the country.
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And with 14:30 left in the game after Nembhard’s bucket, there was plenty of time to mount what would have been an epic comeback. The storylines were writing themselves. Epic shot to win a Final Four game followed by an unbelievable comeback in the title game. It was all coming together.
Until it wasn’t. In a blink, Baylor repeated its game-opening blitz. In a blink, the lead was rebuilt. In a blink, Gonzaga’s perfect season and national title hopes were dashed.
On the very next possession after Nembhard’s layup, Jared Butler found Mark Vital under the basket for an easy bucket. Back to double digits, 60-49.
Then the Baylor defense forced another turnover — this one by Drew Timme — that led to a fast break and two free throws by Butler. A Gonzaga bucket by Timme gave the Zags a breath, but then MaCio Teague hit an acrobatic shot in the paint around Timme for Baylor and Vital blocked a shot by Corey Kispert.
Adam Flagler drained a 3-pointer before Gonzaga could get its defense set — not that it had mattered much in the title game — and all of a sudden the Baylor lead was back to 16 points, 67-51. It was a 9-2 run that covered 1 minute and 36 seconds.
That was it. There were still nearly 13 minutes remaining and Gonzaga kept fighting, but it never again cut the lead under 13 points.
The Zags had made their push. The Bears had made their stand, and they were the ones left standing and celebrating.