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 and oppressive attack from Baylor on both sides of the pitch. But the Zags persevered, and after two free throws from Anton Watson and a layup from Andrew Nembhard, the Bulldogs were suddenly trailing to single digits.
It felt like a major victory in itself. Remember, they were 9-0 behind in the opening minutes and spent most of the first half with phrases like “biggest deficit of the season” being tossed around by the announcement team. from CBS. Even though the game was a struggle, a nine-point deficit seemed like a surmountable obstacle for Gonzaga’s attack which was the best in the country.
GONZAGA-BAYLOR: Live Updates, Title Match Highlights
And with 2:30 p.m. in the game after Nembhard’s bucket, there was plenty of time to ride what would have been an epic comeback. The intrigues wrote themselves. Epic shot to win a Final Four match followed by an incredible comeback in the title match. Everything was coming together.
Until it doesn’t. In the blink of an eye, Baylor repeated their opening match blitz. In the blink of an eye, the lead was rebuilt. In the blink of an eye, 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 two digits, 60-49.
Then Baylor’s defense forced another turnover – that of Drew Timme – which led to a quick break and two free throws from Butler. A Gonzaga bucket from Timme gave the Zags a blast, but MaCio Teague hit an acrobatic shot in the paint around Timme for Baylor and Vital blocked a shot from Corey Kispert.
Adam Flagler drained 3 points before Gonzaga could get his defense set – not that that mattered much in the title game – and all of a sudden Baylor’s lead was back to 16 points, 67-51. It was a 9-2 race that lasted 1 minute and 36 seconds.
That was it. There was still almost 13 minutes left and Gonzaga continued to fight, but he never reduced the lead to less than 13 points again.
The Zags had pushed. The bears had taken a stand, and they were the ones standing and celebrating.