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Tuesday Observations: What happened to the ‘Zags?

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A funny thing happened on the way to Gonzaga going 32-0, which we had been told was going to happen since the ‘Zags had finished their beatdown of Virginia back on Dec. 26.

“We haven’t played like that this year,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after Baylor’s 86-70 win in Monday’s national championship game. “They literally busted us out of anything we could possibly do on offense. We were playing with our back to the basket, not facing up. And we couldn’t get anything generated to the basket; we were kind of playing sideways.”

Gosh, almost sounds like what the ‘Zags did to the ‘Hoos, and most of their opponents, this season.

They’d won 27 straight games by double digits heading into the Final Four, the only close calls being a pair of relatively tough contests against BYU that they ended up winning by 11 and 10, the latter one in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game.

UCLA, in the Final Four, memorably played Gonzaga to a buzzer-beater in OT before bowing out, but you could write that one off as the reminder that there’s a reason we actually play the games, UCLA was on a mission, and the ‘Zags still found a way to pull that one out.

Baylor, which finished 28-2, its losses coming to Kansas and Oklahoma State, the latter in the Big 12 Tournament semis, came out the aggressor, jumping out to an 11-1 lead by the first media timeout, and though we wouldn’t know it at the time, the Corey Kispert three out of the timeout that made it 11-4 would be as close as Gonzaga would get the rest of the night.

Baylor would lead by as many as 19 in the first half before the ‘Zags closed to 10, at 47-37, at the break.

An Andrew Nembhard layup got it to 58-49 with 14:30 left, but Baylor responded with a 9-2 run over the next minute and a half to push the margin back to 16, and it wouldn’t get closer.

Was it the pressure of 32-0?

“It’s weird, I never felt like we played with that weight all year,” Few said afterward. “I always felt like we were the aggressor and we were always, I call it attack mode. And we just ran into a team tonight that was, they were the aggressor, clearly. So, I think that put us back definitely on our heels on both ends.”

I would think that it was more that the ‘Zags hadn’t been challenged the way they were last night, except that they were just coming off that OT win over UCLA.

That would have been the excuse if they’d lost that game on Saturday night. Well, you beat the heck out of everybody all season long, and you finally have somebody smack you back in the mouth, how do you respond?

I saw that in the Virginia team that famously lost to UMBC in 2018. That ‘Hoos team had run through the ACC with a 17-1 regular-season record, won the ACC Tournament, was 31-2 going into the NCAA Tournament, 21 of those wins by double-digits, not much in the way of adversity, then, boom, it’s over.

But again, the UCLA game was two nights ago.

Was it maybe fatigue from having had to finally have to go to the end and beyond with a short turnaround?

“Obviously, it’s a tough turnaround,” Few said. “It was more just the aggressiveness and the athletic, just the athleticism of Baylor that just had us on our heels. I don’t know that it was due to our fatigue. And, yes, again, usually when you’re the most aggressive team you’re going to get the calls and you’re going to get, you’re going to make the plays.

“I mean, they were just clearly way more aggressive than us pretty much the entire night. So I don’t think that was because of fatigue at all, no.”

Inside the Numbers

  • Points in the paint: Gonzaga actually had a 40-30 edge in the paint. The ‘Zags were 16-of-26 on shots at the rim, to Baylor’s 13-of-24. And they played the way you’re supposed to play today: only hoisting six two-point jumpers, to Baylor’s 20. (Gonzaga was 4-of-6 on two-point jumpers; Baylor was 7-of-20.) Advantage: Gonzaga.
  • Threes: Baylor was 10-of-23 (43.5 percent). Season: 41.3 percent (first nationally). Gonzaga: 5-of-17 (29.4 percent). Season: 36.8 percent (45th nationally). Baylor gets a 15-point edge from bonusland. Advantage: Baylor.
  • Rebounds: Gonzaga had 17 defensive rebounds; Baylor had 16 offensive rebounds. That’s a 48.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage. Baylor had come in ranked fifth nationally with a 37.3 percent offensive rebound rate. The ‘Zags ranked 31st nationally in defensive rebounding percentage at 76.2 percent. Baylor ended up with a 16-5 edge in second chance points. Advantage: Baylor.
  • Turnovers: Gonzaga turned the ball over 14 times on 68 possessions (20.6 percent). Season: 16.1 percent (40th nationally). Baylor turned it over nine times on 67 possessions (13.4 percent). Season: 16.5 percent (54th nationally). Baylor ended up with 19-9 edge in points off turnovers. Advantage: Baylor.

The offensive rebounds and turnovers also resulted in Baylor getting 18 more shots from the field.

Combine that with the huge discrepancy in threes, and that’s how it is that Baylor can shoot 44.8 percent, Gonzaga can shoot 51.0 percent, and Baylor wins by 16, and is never seriously threatened.

Story by Chris Graham


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