The Final Four once again proved to be a fickle beast. The Baylor Bears on the court deserved to win a national championship, while the University did not. Gonzaga as an institution has been oh-so-close so many times it feels like the school deserves a title by now, but the team last night fell far short of playing to their championship standard for the first time all season. Scott Drew and Baylor will savor this first title while Mark Few will head back to Spokane knowing these chances are really few and far between.
Scott Drew has done an extraordinary job bringing Baylor back from the scandals that I believe should have been the end of their athletic program. Perhaps I was wrong given what Drew has built over the last two decades. Still, I cannot forget how the university created the environment that led to Patrick Dennehy’s murder and the handling of the situation by David Bliss and the administration. Baylor has been involved in too many scandals and investigations, even after that murder, to feel a title is justified. It just feels like Gonzaga deserved a title for doing everything right and this would be the year. Baylor could have been happy just making the title game this year, knowing Drew had the program on the proper path.
This has to be the most rewarding win in school history for Baylor, especially given where the program was when Drew took over. Likewise, this is the most crushing, heartbreaking loss in Gonzaga’s history. The Bulldogs could have been the first undefeated team in 45 years! Only two games all year were even close enough to be decided by single digits, and one of those was the Final Four win over UCLA. This would have gone down as one of the greatest teams in college basketball history.
Gonzaga built a modest program for the first near-century of its existence. Dan Monson’s Cinderella run in 1999 sparked a party that has lasted for the past 21 years. The alumni and students have built up the team and facilities in a way that makes the nation feel comfortable with the Bulldogs having a top-5 team. Yet every promising season ends in heartbreak. The payoff of getting a championship trophy to sit inside the McCarthey Athletic Center has yet again slipped through Few’s fingers.
Gonzaga was blown out of the gym by Baylor. Gonzaga got within nine points of Baylor for 90 seconds after the first television timeout. The rest of the game they were flirting with a 20 point blowout. Final Score: 86-70. 16 points. Might as well have washed out in the Sweet 16 like any other generic mid-major program. Leave the cutting of the nets to the Power 5 programs with one extra player and a few more resources. Except this was supposed to be Gonzaga at its finest and its statement moment that it was a Big Boy on the College Basketball Block.
Few had a squad of future NBA Draft picks, they just fell short in the worst, and biggest, moment. Perhaps it was the adrenaline from that game-winner against UCLA. Perhaps they were just overwhelmed by the other best team in the country all season. If these teams play 9 more times, all would likely be decided by less than the 16 that separated them at the end of the championship game of 2021.
Baylor rose from the ashes of scandal while Gonzaga fell flat once again. Perhaps that is a fitting end to the season, especially to mark this past year in the pandemic. The champs will always remember this One Shining Moment fondly, but Gonzaga will have to relive the nightmare of having their first real bad night take place in the Final Four.