Gonzaga players console each other after losing to Baylor in the championship game Monday in Indianapolis. Baylor won 86-70. Michael Conroy/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Twenty teams have entered the NCAA Tournament unbeaten.

Seven won championships. On Monday night, after spending 5 1/2 months and 31 games as America’s top team, Gonzaga headed home just the like other 13 – without the trophy.

Baylor’s perfect game upended Gonzaga’s perfect season and the 86-70 decision extended the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers’ streak as Division I’s last unbeaten men’s champion for at least another year. It’s the longest streak since the tourney began in 1939.

Perfection denied is a far more common theme in tourney play, though.

Six teams lost in the national semifinals, including two in Indianpaolis (UNLV in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015). Gonzaga becomes the third team to suffer its only loss of the season in the title game and the first since Larry Bird with Indiana State in 1979. The other was Ohio State in 1961 and Bob Knight played on that team, too, long before leading the Hoosiers to their crowning achievement 15 years later.

Gonzaga came into the game as the most efficient offensive team in the nation, taking on all comers along the way and winning their first four tourney games by double digits. They even survived Saturday’s back-and-forth contest against UCLA with an incredible heave by Jalen Suggs in overtime.

Then, in the matchup college basketball fans had eagerly awaited since the first matchup in December was canceled because of a COVID-19 test, the Zags didn’t look like themselves.

They struggled to score early, played catch-up all night and turned the ball over against Baylor’s stifling, in-your-face defense. And amid the chaos, they saw their dream of bringing home the school’s first national championship evaporate.

GONZAGA SHOT 51% but finished with a season-low 70 points after averaging a national-best 91.6 points – more than six points better than any other team in Division I.

Associated Press first-team All-American Corey Kispert didn’t get many clean looks and finished with just 12 points and two 3-pointers. Second-teamer Drew Timme also had 12 but got just seven shots while getting into second-half foul trouble and nursing an apparent injury.

Gonzaga made just 5 of 17 3-pointers, its lowest total of the six NCAA Tournament games.

QUOTABLE:

“Look, I’ve been watching them all year and last year, and I knew they’d be a handful for us. Those guards are so quick and they can all get their own shot, and they’re obviously more athletic than we are around the rim. I thought we could find some advantages, too, but we just weren’t quite able to do that.”
— Gonzaga Coach Mark Few

“I can tell you that our guys have been motivated all year. It’s a player-led team,” Drew said. “We’re so blessed to have unbelievable upperclassmen and leadership. But we play with a culture of joy and as you saw for yourself they came out and they fed off of each other. We got off to a great start and then defensively we’re pretty good.”
— Baylor Coach Scott Drew


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.