INDIANAPOLIS – Gonzaga coach Mark Few tried to reflect on what his heartbroken team actually accomplished this season.
It was still tough to accept.
After winning 31 straight games and going wire to wire as No. 1, the Bulldogs became the 13th team to start an NCAA Tournament with a perfect record and finish it without taking the trophy home. Instead, Baylor won its first championship with an 86-70 game that wasn't ever really close.
“It’s a really, really tough one to end a storybook season on but, listen, Baylor just beat us, they beat us in every facet of the game tonight," Few said. “Obviously, we're all disappointed in here but as I told the guys, you make it this far and you're 31-0 going into the last one, the last 40 minutes of the season, there's absolutely nothing you should feel bad about."
Few knows the truth, which is that perfection denied is far more common than perfection achieved in this tournament.
Only seven teams have been crowned as undefeated national champions, the last being the Indiana Hoosiers in 1975-76. The 45-year gap is the longest stretch without an unbeaten national champion since the tourney began in 1939.
Of the other 13 teams, four failed to reach the Final Four. Six lost in the national semifinals, including two played in Indianapolis (UNLV in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015). Gonzaga is now the third team to suffer its only loss in the title game and the first since Larry Bird's Indiana State team in 1979. The other was Ohio State in 1961; Bob Knight played on that team long before coaching the Hoosiers to their crowing achievement 15 years later.
This time, Baylor’s perfect game upended Gonzaga’s perfect season — a loss that hit every bit as hard as the previous 13.