“Our futile human plans,” Few called the arrangements.
Baylor kept pace with Gonzaga for three months until it was thrown off course by the coronavirus. The Bears, who won their first 18 games, didn’t play for 21 days beginning in early February. When they returned, they barely escaped against Iowa State, the last-place team in the Big 12 and then lost at Kansas. They recovered to win their next four games before being beaten by Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament semifinals.
A lockdown defense had suddenly become leaky.
“You can’t be good at defense and not practice it for three weeks, four weeks, five weeks,” said Drew, whose team played so frequently when it returned that there was little time to practice until the week between postseason tournaments. At a time when coaches dial back on practice, Drew worked his players hard.
“Our players really bought in that our defense was slipping,” he said.
The Bears held their six tournament opponents to an average of 61.7 points per game, throttling Houston and Villanova, two of the top seven most efficient offenses in the country, according to the statistical analyst Ken Pomeroy.
A sign of Baylor’s priorities came on the opening tip when it placed Davion Mitchell, the national defensive player of the year not on Suggs, the freshman who is expected to be one of the top picks in the N.B.A. draft, but on Corey Kispert, a sharpshooting forward who had been off his form for much of the tournament.
If Mitchell could neutralize Kispert, the Bears had the muscle, quickness and doggedness to handle everyone else. It quickly proved a shrewd assessment.
The Zags’ symphonic offense was knocked catawampus by Baylor’s relentless defense. And at the other end, Gonzaga’s defense offered scant resistance as a parade of Bears burst past their defenders leading to lay-ins and open, in-rhythm looks for the best 3-point shooting team in the country. Baylor made its first five 3-pointers and a little more than 7 minutes into the game had put Gonzaga in a 23-8 hole — its largest of the season.
Such was a sign of Gonzaga’s desperation that the Zags — who found themselves behind by as many as 19 points — switched to a zone defense.