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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Gonzaga falls short of coveted perfect season

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The Gonzaga Bulldogs played 1,245 minutes of perfect basketball this season. That’s 31 games and one overtime period. No losses.

Standing between the Bulldogs and that coveted perfect season were the Baylor Bears, who decidedly outplayed Gonzaga in the last 40 minutes of this basketball season to win a national championship April 5 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

No doubt, Gonzaga was going for a national title first and foremost, but the lure of perfection was always there for a team that steamrolled its league opponents in the West Coast Conference and took on a few noteworthy nonconference challengers before entering the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.

The Bulldogs couldn’t do it, though. Baylor was too much, winning 86-70, and now Gonzaga has at least one more what-if than most runner-ups.

“It’s weird,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said after the game. “I never felt like we played with that weight all year. I always felt like we were the aggressor.”

Gonzaga was trying to become the eighth team in the NCAA Tournament era to go undefeated and win a national championship.

The UCLA Bruins, the team Gonzaga beat in a thrilling semifinal game April 3, owns four of the seven perfect college basketball seasons that resulted in a national title. The Bruins won 120 games in those four seasons under the late legendary coach John Wooden, who amassed 767 wins with UCLA and won 10 national championships, including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.

The Indiana Hoosiers were the most recent team to go undefeated when they went 32-0 in 1976 under Bob Knight. Indiana won its first of three national championships under Knight that season.

The other two undefeated championship seasons belong to San Francisco, which finished 29-0 in the 1955-56 season behind All-American Bill Russell, and North Carolina, which finished 32-0 the next season.

North Carolina State went undefeated in the 1972-73 season but didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament because of NCAA infractions.

Not surprisingly, Few and his team always played down the possibility of going undefeated, even as the wins (and questions) kept coming.

Winning is a habit, the saying goes, and breaking the streak on the game’s biggest stage is an odd feeling for players who have done as well as any athlete at making winning a routine.

“You really do forget what it’s like to lose,” Bulldogs senior forward Corey Kispert said. “And every time it happens, it doesn’t feel good. And thankfully I’ve had not very many of them over my career.”

Kispert’s senior class finished with a record of 127-12.

“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,” Few said. “… And they’ll look back on this season as time passes as something just amazing and incredible.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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