Thank you, Gonzaga Bulldogs. You gave Washington and the nation a wild ride. It didn’t end the way anyone but a Baylor fan wanted, but it was a distraction we all needed during the winter of pandemic.
Gonzaga’s men’s basketball team dominated the season like no team in a generation. They started the season ranked No. 1, and with each win they attracted more fans. People could sense that something historic was happening. The Bulldogs became the first team to reach the national championship game undefeated since 1979.
And on Monday, it ended in profound disappointment. Baylor jumped to a 9-0 lead at the start of the game and never looked back. As we watched, we kept waiting for the magic, for the scrappy Gonzaga team to overcome the deficit. It didn’t happen. Baylor earned its championship. We congratulate them.
Maybe the Gonzaga players were tired and emotionally drained after Saturday night’s close semifinal game against UCLA. Jalen Suggs’ buzzer-beating, three-point heave gave the Bulldogs the win, then he jumped onto the scorer’s table. Sports analysts immediately called it an iconic March Madness moment. If only the championship had been half as exciting.
Suggs, a freshman, likely will go pro, but hopes already are high for next year’s Bulldogs.
Gonzaga holds a special place here in Washington, so the loss stings more intensely. The entire state has embraced the team over its meteoric rise under coach Mark Few. In 1998, the school nearly dropped out of Division I sports to save money during a budget crisis. It stuck it out and became a college basketball unicorn: A small school that annually competes with the big ones. Little more than 5,000 undergraduates attend the Catholic Jesuit school in Spokane.
Every sports fan sick and tired of a few powerhouse schools in a few powerhouse conferences dominating athletics can look to Gonzaga and see what’s possible with the right combination of coaching, player talent, determination and a bit of luck. They offer hope to every school that dreams of a magical season can come true.
That’s why we’re fans. The Gonzaga men’s basketball team is an underdog made good. We share their disappointment today, but we’ll remember their incredible run and joy on the court lifting the spirits of pandemic-weary fans.
Thanks for the wild ride. See you next season.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the length of time since another NCAA men’s basketball team reached the title game undefeated. The last was the Indiana State team in 1979.