So much for that dream meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 men’s college basketball teams in the country.
What happened on Monday night in Indianapolis was about as anticlimactic an NCAA Championship Game as could be imagined.
Baylor’s 86-70 victory over previously unbeaten Gonzaga was two points short of being the most one-sided title result in 28 years.
And while the margin of victory was surprising, the win by Baylor (28-2) wasn’t.
Indeed the odds for the final seemed skewed.
Gonzaga, 31-0, deserved to be favored, but by 4½ points? The tourney’s top-seeded Zags needed a 35-foot banked 3-pointer by freshman star Jalen Suggs to beat First Four play-in UCLA, seeded 11th, 93-90, in overtime in Saturday’s second national semifinal.
In the first, Baylor, the South’s No. 1 seed, thrashed the Midwest’s second-seeded Houston by 19 and looked to be easily the Final Four’s best team.
The Bears proved it Monday night, likely causing millions of CBS viewers to change channels way early.
Gonzaga, burdened with trying to become only the eighth undefeated NCAA champion and the first since Indiana in 1976, appeared to still be numb from winning one of the most dramatic and exciting games in tournament history.
And when Baylor raced out to a 9-0 start and was up by 19 midway through the first half, you knew where this was headed.
It was jarring to see the Bears, with a starting lineup peppered with NBA bodies, dominating via aggressiveness and winning the boards (34-17) and turnover battle (7-14) by double over such an accomplished opponent.
Gonzaga, which all season long had played offense with poise and precision, seemed lost at times. And though the Zags cut the margin to nine early in the second half, you never got the idea they were about to mount a rally.
And what seemed, at tip-off, to be a doozy of a final, fizzled into a decided dud.
But we sure know which team is No. 1.
OK, SO I’M not totally objective about Geno Auriemma, Connecticut’s sometimes controversial women’s basketball coach. For me, a bit too often, he emits a vibe of arrogance.
And yet, for all his success – 11 NCAA championships in his 36-year career – he’s kind of become a victim of the Yankees syndrome. Haters maintain “they ALWAYS win.” And, yeah, the Yankees have been a successful organization. But, for the record, they last won a World Series in 2009 … 11 years ago.
Ditto for UConn’s women. They’ve made the NCAA Final Four every year since 2008, with the exception of 2020’s coronavirus-aborted season, but the Huskies haven’t gotten to the championship game in their last four trips.
Needless to say, Friday night, I couldn’t have been rooting harder for Arizona to beat UConn in the national semifinal. That the Wildcats never trailed in their 69-59 win was stunning enough, but I was also impressed with Adia Barnes, about whom I knew little, but who was clearly enjoying coaching Arizona to the biggest win in her alma mater’s history.
And the final was way more exciting and entertaining than my expectation.
It seemed likely the Wildcats would be emotionally drained after beating UConn and there was nothing not to like about Stanford, titleless since 1992, and coached by Tara VanDerveer, a graduate of Buffalo Seminary and a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
My hope was for a good game … but it turned out to be a great one.
En route to its 54-53 win, the Cardinal had to get a stop on Arizona’s final six-second possession for its first NCAA title in 29 years.
The tense game got me to thinking about a former St. Bonaventure men’s hoops assistant – he shall remain nameless – who absolutely hated women’s basketball because of its slow pace, careless ball-handling and erratic shooting.
It occurred to me how much their game has evolved since then into a genuinely entertaining event, that’s well worth watching start to finish.
Stanford and Arizona proved it.
(Chuck Pollock, a Times Herald senior sports columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)