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Gonzaga was set up to make history in Monday's NCAA championship game.
Having long claimed its seat as a basketball power, it was favored to finally cut down the nets for the first time, filling the only gap on its program résumé. It would have become college basketball's first undefeated team since 1976 in the process.
It entered the game riding the highs of Jalen Suggs' historic buzzer-beater to top top UCLA in Final Four.
Then it all came crashing down. In dramatic fashion. Baylor was dominant from the tip in an 86-70 win as a Gonzaga team that had yet to experience loss collapsed in the biggest game of the season.
Emotional scene for Suggs, Gonzaga
When it was over, the emotions weighed visibly on Suggs as the projected NBA lottery pick also processed what was almost certainly his final game in a Gonzaga uniform.
Fighting back tears, Suggs shared hugs with his coaches and teammates when the final buzzer sounded. And when Gonzaga wrapped its final huddle of the season, he held onto his likely last moment as a college player just a little bit longer in an embrace with fellow freshman Julian Strawther.
Final team huddle of the year.... Watch Jalen Suggs at the end. He is beside himself. pic.twitter.com/UN7z8eJU2C
— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) April 6, 2021
Mark Few: 'He doesn't like losing'
Suggs didn't speak publicly after the game. Head coach Mark Few did, and he was asked about Suggs' emotions.
"He’s a winner, and he lost for the first time in college basketball," Few said. "He’s highly competitive. He doesn’t like losing. In his mind, he saw us cutting down the nets at the end of this.”
"But he's also young. And as time goes by, he'll gain better perspective on what an incredible impact he had on this team, and heck, on college basketball. It was a blessing to be able to coach him. And I thanked him for just how coachable, and what a great teammate he was, and just what a winner he was."
For 67 teams that qualify for the NCAA tournament, it ends in disappointment that's often accompanied by the conclusion of careers. When the stakes are this high and the journey this long, the pain hits that much harder.
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