Baylor’s seasoned ended with a loss to Gonzaga—one of the nation’s best teams and a No. 1 seed—83-71.
Baylor—a team of so many second half runs, including a 19 point comeback against Texas—made one to start the second half. Trailing 39-23, the Bears started the half on a 10-0 run, led by a King McClure three and two Mark Vital layups. The Bears pulled within five. But then Vital was called for a block on a play that was either a charge (likely) or a play-on. That foul was Vital’s fourth and sent him to the bench.
Gonzaga made another run after that. Brandon Clarke, the best big man Baylor’s played since Anthony Davis, scored eight points to give Gonzaga a lead. Clarke finished with 36 points and five blocks.
The Bears hit a few shots and went zone. But Gonzaga drilled two long threes. Between Clarke and their occasional shooting, the Bulldogs played well enough tonight to win a national title.
Drew brought Vital back with 12 minutes left. He made the right decision to play him two in the first and four in the second. The Bears were much better with him out there and needed every minute of him. But he couldn’t defend the same way when he came back. Clarke continued to prove unstoppable, and even when Baylor cut the deficit to eight, Gonzaga kept answering. The Bears had a few nice moments late—including on some McClure drives—but Gonzaga was too good, especially with Vital hampered by four fouls. They just kept scoring.
Gonzaga was dominant in the first half. Geno Crandall tried to lob a pass to a big man. He accidentally lobbed it in for 3-points. Brandon Clarke scored 18 first half points on just 10 shots for the Bulldogs. The Bears started 8-of-11 from three against Syracuse. They started just 1-of-11 from there against Gonzaga. Baylor needed to have a good shooting day to win. They had a bad one, finishing 4-of-21 from three.
This was a tough ending to a great season. The Bears were 9-6 and 1-2 in Big 12 play when Tristan Clark, their best player, went out for the season. The Bears already had losses to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin. A trip to the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament, seemed ludicrous. But Baylor managed to rally and make the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.
This painful end shouldn’t impact how special this season was. Freddie Gillespie, a former D3 player and walk-on, became Baylor’s starting center and was a force defensively. King McClure provided exceptional defense and keyed Baylor to a big win early in the season in Stillwater. He also finished with 15 points tonight and was probably Baylor’s best player in the second half. Mason overwhelmed so many opponents, including a 40 point and 9-of-12 performance against TCU.
With this tough night for the Bears, the future is incredibly bright. Every rotation piece but Mason and McClure will be back. Clark will return as well. And the Bears will add Macio Teague and Davion Mitchell, two guards that could end up starting on next year’s team and will certainly be massive contributors. Baylor got the most out of this year’s team. If they do that next year, they’ll talk about how the 2018-2019 Bears built the foundation for one of the team’s best seasons ever.