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OPINION | WALLY HALL: No need to dig deep: Baylor was just better

by Wally Hall | April 7, 2021 at 2:58 a.m.

Baylor was the lawnmower and Gonzaga was the grass.

From start to finish the Bears dominated the Zags, and even when the undefeated overall No. 1 seed cut the deficit to single digits, it didn't feel like they would get closer. They didn't.

Baylor led first -- then by as much as 19 -- to the final buzzer. When the confetti rained in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, tears of joy flowed about 1,000 miles away in Waco, Texas, where thousands watched the game at the football field.

When Scott Drew became the Bears head coach 18 years ago at the age of 32, there were more head coaches not interested in Baylor than there were those willing to try and put a program back together that was coming off the worst scandal in history.

A Baylor basketball player was murdered by a teammate.

Dave Bliss, the head basketball coach, was out the door fast, and his career that included head coaching jobs at Oklahoma, SMU and New Mexico was derailed. After a stint in the now-defunct CBA, he coached at the NAIA level before resigning in 2017.

How much Baylor needed a squeaky-clean name who knew something about basketball was evident when the school hired Scott Drew.

In 2003, he was known as Homer Drew's son. Homer was the lovable coach at Valparaiso for 22 years who took the tiny school to the NCAA Tournament seven times, and once to the Sweet 16.

Scott Drew also was known as Bryce Drew's brother. Bryce was on the right end of a hook-and-lateral play at Valparaiso that beat Ole Miss in the 1998 NCAA Tournament.

Homer retired, and Scott took over the reins at Valpo for a season and went 20-11.

Next thing you know, he's trying to rebuild a program that few wanted to be a part of.

The first four years were tough with not a winning season among them, but Drew was a total optimist, a man of great faith and a coach with an unquenchable thirst to recruit.

In his fifth season -- which was about five years sooner than anyone expected -- he led the Bears to the NCAA Tournament.

That was the first dose of healing.

Baylor made the Elite Eight two years later, and the tireless Drew intensified his recruiting so much that he was not well liked among his peers in the Big 12 at the time.

The Bears became a fairly regular part of March Madness, and the healing continued until most had forgotten that sad time in Baylor history.

Understand, Baylor is a proud academic university. What happened hurt.

So the joy of Monday night probably released years of frustration and anguish.

The Bears starting five consisted of two seniors and three juniors, showing again one-and-done may now be overrated. Those five players represented three states and the Congo.

Out of the gate it was obvious they were stronger, more physical, more athletic and more energetic than the Zags. But take nothing away from Gonzaga, which had a great season.

The Bears paid notice early in the season when they beat Illinois, who also would be a No. 1 seed, 82-69 in the Jimmy V Classic played, ironically, in Indianapolis.

The keys to the victory were simple. Baylor hit 10 of 23 threes while the Zags were 5 of 17, and the Bears held advantages in points off turnovers (19-9), second-chance points (16-5) and fastbreak points (19-15).

That's the difference in hustle and muscle.

Maybe the Zags left too much on the floor in their overtime win Saturday, but most likely they were just the second best team Monday night.

Just to clarify for a reader, covid-19 cases are up all over the world, including the USA with the exception of Arkansas so far.


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