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College Basketball

At Long Last, The Real Gonzaga Showed Up

Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It took until the National Championship game, but the Gonzaga men’s basketball team finally got around to doing the thing that’s become expected of them in every season over the last two decades: They crashed out of the NCAA tournament in somewhat humiliating fashion, losing to Baylor 86-70.

The story of the game itself, which Baylor had complete control over from the opening whistle and won comfortably, isn’t all that complicated. Baylor was simply the stronger, fresher, and better team. All that wonderful cutting and passing that made Gonzaga a one-seed got swallowed up by Baylor’s brawn and athleticism. The Bears smothered and scooted the Zags out of the way all night, grabbing 16 offensive rebounds and out-rebounding Gonzaga overall, 38-22. Once all that defensive work was done, Baylor got out and ran, which led to them getting up 67 shots compared to Gonzaga’s 49. It also helped that Baylor simply could not miss from three-point range, hitting 10 of their 23 shots from deep.

If you’re looking for a short sequence from the game that pretty well sums up how the night went, look no further than Corey Kispert getting spiked at the rim, leading to a run-out and a wide-open three for Baylor:

While Baylor, clearly the better team, enjoys its well-earned championship, Gonzaga and head coach Mark Few are left to navigate familiar post-tournament feelings of failure. Few has been in charge of the program since 1999, and his ability to put together good or even great teams that ultimately never win a championship just gets spookier every year. Since Few took over, Gonzaga has made the tournament every single season (last year’s cancelled tournament notwithstanding). In 15 of those seasons, Gonzaga was a single-digit seed. In nine of them, Gonzaga was a top-four seed. But the program has made it past the Sweet Sixteen only four times under Few’s stewardship, reaching the championship game twice, losing it last night and to fellow one-seed North Carolina in 2017.

Gonzaga’s tapestry of tournament shit-eating is so long at this point that it’s hard to even discern where this year’s edition ranks. Is going 31-0 and then losing in the final worse than the time Adam Morrison cried his way off the court after the Zags were upset by UCLA in 2006? Is it more embarrassing than the time they got upset by 10-seed Nevada in 2004? How about when they got owned in the first round by Steph Curry’s Davidson team in 2008?

Those are all questions for Few to sort out on his own time, I suppose. For now, though, he seems to be taking last night’s loss as well as anyone can be expected to. “Obviously, we’re all disappointed in here,” he said after the game. “But, you know, as I told the guys, like, you make it this far and you’re 31-0 going into the last one, the last 40 minutes of the season, there’s absolutely nothing you should ever feel bad about.”

Ah, traditions.