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NCAA championship: Gonzaga, Baylor finally get to face off

NCAA's top teams to meet for national championship after highly anticipated December matchup was derailed by COVID.

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Gonzaga's Jalen Suggs (1) shoots the game-winning 3-point basket in overtime to defeat UCLA, 93-90, in the NCAA Tournament Final Four semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday in Indianapolis. Jamie Squire/Tribune News Service

The college basketball game on a neutral floor in Indianapolis that everyone wanted to see four months ago and didn't happen is set for Monday night: Gonzaga vs. Baylor for the men's NCAA championship.

The teams entered the regular season the same way they were seeded to start the NCAA Tournament, ranked first and second. Their early season showdown set for Dec. 5 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was canceled some 90 minutes before tipoff because of a COVID-19 positive test by a Gonzaga player and a member of the team's traveling party.

The Zags and Bears remained at or near the top of the polls throughout the season — undefeated Gonzaga never left No. 1 — and have won their way to the championship game, the Bulldogs in most dramatic fashion.

A 35-foot launch by freshman guard Jalen Suggs, in the air as the buzzer sounded, banked off the square and splashed through the hoop to give Gonzaga a 93-90 overtime triumph over UCLA on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, completing of the greatest games in NCAA Tournament history.

Suggs' shot will take its place along side of Villanova's Kris Jenkins' that won the 2016 NCAA title and Kansas' Mario Chalmers that sent the 2008 championship game into overtime, among recent remarkable finishes. It came after UCLA's Johnny Juzang's stickback tied the score with 3.3 seconds remaining.

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Gonzaga's Corey Kispert quickly inbounded the ball to Suggs.

"Corey took it out right away ... and I got as many dribbles as I can," Suggs said in a news conference after the game. "Tried to get as close as I could. Man, that is something that you practice on your mini hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it's crazy."

The shot wasn't Suggs' only shining moment of the game. With two minutes remaining in regulation, he came from behind to block what would have been an easy basket for Cody Riley that would have given the Bruins the lead. Suggs then tracked down the rebound, hustled upcourt and fired a beautiful one-handed bounce pass to Drew Timme for a dunk.

Gonzaga shot 59% for the game, UCLA 58%. No team led by more than seven and the lead changed hands 19 times. The score was tied 15 times.

"At the end of it, you could tell how both staffs and all the players reacted that it was an all-timer," Bulldogs coach Mark Few said.

Baylor had a much easier time in its semifinal, blowing out Houston 78-59. The separation started early and the Bears held a 25-point halftime lead.

All-America guard Jared Butler, who had been in a recent shooting slump, buried four of his five three-point attempts on his way to 17 points.

"I'm a shooter," Butler said. "Sometimes the ball goes in. Sometimes the ball doesn't go in. It's just about me staying confident through it all. And tonight just the ball went in. "Now, it's on to a championship game that's been anticipated all season. For the first time since North Carolina defeated Illinois in 2005, the top two teams on the overall seed list will meet for the men's championship.

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The Bulldogs and Bears have been considered a cut above the rest of men's basketball all season, even after Baylor returned from a three-week pause because of COVID-19 issues, and dropped its first game to Kansas after a 17-0 start.

Baylor's second loss came to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals. But that's it. Baylor, in its first NCAA title game since losing to Kentucky in 1948, stands 27-2 and will finish with the best record in program history no matter Monday's outcome. The game tips off at 8:20 p.m. on CBS.

Gonzaga (31-0) bids for history. The Bulldogs seek to become the eighth team since the NCAA tournament started in 1939 to become an undefeated national champion. The last was Indiana in 1976.

The title game is loaded with star players: Gonzaga's Suggs, Timme and Corey Kispert are All-Americans, along Butler. Baylor guard Davion Mitchell is the national defensive player of the year and has been outstanding throughout the postseason.

The Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring at 92 points per game. Baylor leads the nation in three-point shooting at 41%, and both programs are seeking their first NCAA men's basketball championship.

Common opponents: Look in the Big 12. Gonzaga defeated Kansas and West Virginia in the regular season and Oklahoma in the NCAA second round. Baylor swept the Sooners and Mountaineers and split with the Jayhawks. Also, both teams defeated Auburn.

Maybe this one will live up to the hype, or approach the theater of Gonzaga's semifinal victory.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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