Gonzaga’s pursuit of perfection ends in out-of-synch showing

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jalen Suggs opened his first game after hitting one of the biggest shots in NCAA Tournament history with a missed 3-pointer and then an immediate offensive foul when he ran over a defender.

It was the first sign that Gonzaga’s push for perfection built around often seamless execution was in trouble against Baylor.

The offense that had hummed along to huge totals struggled to get clean looks early or make 3-pointers. A reliable defense couldn’t slow the Bears’ 3-point shooting or keep Baylor off the glass.

And on the final night of the season, the Bulldogs — who had seemingly had everything clicking from the season’s opening tip — ended with an out-of-synch and disjointed showing in Monday night’s 86-70 loss to the Bears in the NCAA championship game.

The loss ended their shot at becoming the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1976.

Gonzaga (31-1) 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. Beyond those numbers, though, was the simple fact that the Zags seemed to be struggling to bring everything together on a night as the Bears came out on the attack.

Suggs had etched his name into tournament lore by banking home a running shot from just across halfcourt to beat UCLA in overtime in an electric national semifinal Saturday night. But he took an early seat after picking up two early fouls in this one, sidelining the Zags’ best NBA prospect as the Bears jumped all over them for a 9-0 lead.

He eventually returned and finished with a team-high 22 points, 15 coming after halftime. The problem was that the Zags never could seemed to get everyone rolling together as they had all season, and it had them staring at a huge deficit just about all night.

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, their lowest total of the six NCAA Tournament games.

The Zags had been here once before, taking a one-loss team all the way to the final night of the season four years ago before losing to North Carolina. This one will hurt maybe more for a team that won all but two games all year by double-digit margins and had coach Mark Few within a victory of achieving the national championship he has spent years building toward.

By the final minute, Kispert and Joel Ayayi were checking out of the game with a hug for Few as they made their way down the bench. Soon Suggs joined them and was in tears, crying in first in the arms of Andrew Nembhard and then Kispert as the Bears’ celebration began.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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