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Gonzaga drops a hard fought battle to Baylor

Nothing about this game was aesthetically pleasing, but the Zags showed their character in a grinder.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Gonzaga Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

You probably wanted to scream about 500 different times during this game. Let it out, go on, it might make you feel better.

There’s no sugarcoating it. That was a tough game to lose. Gonzaga’s effort and grit should’ve earned the Bulldogs a victory. But the Zags came up empty at the end and Baylor is the team leaving South Dakota with a 64-63 win.

Nothing was pretty about this game. Malachi Smith (16 points) and Anton Watson (13 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals, lots of bruises, were the brightest lights for Gonzaga in a game where Drew Timme (9 points, struggled to get anything going. Nolan Hickman had some nice moments distributing the ball on his way to a career-high 8 assists, but no points in a game where points were very hard to come by. Julian Strawther worked the boards hard and finished the night with 10 rebounds and 10 points but on 3-14 shooting from the field.

I expected Baylor to come out flying after they got embarrassed by Marquette on Tuesday night. The Bears didn’t do that. And yet, the Zags were somehow worse and failed to capitalize on Baylor’s slow start. After being gifted enough turnovers from the Zags, Baylor eventually got its act together and reeled off a 10-0 run that was a bit triggering considering how the game started the last time these two teams played each other.

Only a few minutes into the evening, things were looking dire for Gonzaga. Naturally, Ben Gregg stepped in to arrest the run and get the Zags back on track, at least for awhile. Thanks to Gregg and some much needed transition offense, Gonzaga put together its own 10-0 run to cut the deficit to 19-18.

Of course, after all that work, the Zags gave up a 12-0 run to fall into another hole and were staring another big loss in the face. But the Zags didn’t fold. To their credit, the Zags dug in and embraced the grind of playing Baylor their way. Nothing came easy, but Gonzaga rose to the challenge and applied maximum effort to overcome some of their offensive struggles. The Zags battled hard on the boards and won the edge there by quite some margin.

In the second half Gonzaga very much tightened the screws on defense, holding the Bears scoreless for over four minutes in the middle of the period which earned the Zags their first lead since the start of the game.

Another protracted Baylor drought created by Gonzaga’s suddenly stalwart defense helped the Zags establish a 63-56 lead with 1:41 to go and punctuated by a dunk from Smith over Baylor’s wunderkind Keyonte George.

Unfortunately, there were still 101 seconds left in the game and Gonzaga failed to score any more points during that timeframe. A once toothless Baylor offense saw two clutch 3’s from Adam Flagler on consecutive possessions that cut Gonzaga’s lead to a single point. A phantom foul—no really, the referees had to review the monitor to decide which Zag they should award the foul to since no one actually fouled Baylor’s Jalen Bridges—on a loose ball was the ultimate difference in the game.

Gonzaga’s players and fans will feel hard done by that outcome, but the Zags had a pair of chances after Bridges converted both of his free throws (something the Zags did not do enough of in this game considering they went 13-21 from the charity stripe) after both teams fumbled the ball out of bounds in the final 12 seconds. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs failed to convert and head home with their third loss in as many weeks.