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Baylor reminds Gonzaga of how tough it is to win it — and them — all

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Baylor reminds Gonzaga of how tough it is to win it — and them — all

INDIANAPOLIS — What does it look like when perfection is ruined? It looks like Gonzaga star Corey Kispert leaping to fire a 3-pointer his team desperately needs, seeing the flash of Baylor guard Jared Butler’s quick response cross his vision, then trying to get away with putting the ball down to dribble while three feet off the ground. That’s against the rules.

It looks like All-American center Drew Timme forced into a guarded turnaround jumper from 14 feet because his teammates neglected the shot clock and left him stranded with no recourse but to fire a shot that had little chance.

It looks like coach Mark Few’s scramble out of a switching man-to-man defense the Bears had been shredding and attempting a 2-3 zone, then later a 1-3-1, and Baylor finding the flaws in whatever scheme the Zags attempted.

BENDER: Baylor writes own storybook finish on a near-perfect night

It looks like Baylor coach Scott Drew pointing to his bench to summon the deep reserves, the walk-ons, permitting them a ceremonial last minute so they can tell their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews they finished the game for the winning side in an NCAA championship game.

And it looks like Gonzaga one-and-done freshman Jalen Suggs departing the floor in tears, just two days after he’d stood on the scorer’s table as the buzzer-beating king of the Final Four.

If this were not to end successfully, it was unlikely to end beautifully.

Gonzaga’s drive for a perfect championship season ended with neither Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. After 31 consecutive victories came the “1” the program’s fans had been fearing. The opportunity to become the first undefeated NCAA Tournament winner since 1976 disappeared rapidly against a Baylor surge that Few hailed as “aggressive” — or some derivation of that word — a total of seven times in his 15-minute discussion with reporters afterward.

FAGAN: Breaking down the 96-second sequence that ended Gonzaga’s title hopes

This was Gonzaga’s second appearance since 2017 in the NCAA championship game, and the second time in which it exited in defeat, but the first in which it had entered without a loss.

“It’s obviously a feeling these guys had never had to address and deal with,” Few told Sporting News.” But I think the nature of it tonight probably made it — I mean, it’s not easy but, again, as a coach you just try to give them as much perspective as you can. And as is usually the case with everything, time will lend them the best perspective.

“But they’ve just been an amazing, unbelievable group. And I just told them they’re just so easy to coach and so easy to travel with and so easy to deal with all this COVID stuff that we dealt with all year. I just was amazed at how they handled everything.”

The Zags did not lose because they play in the West Coast Conference and face lesser competition than the Bears through January and February. They did not lose because they wore themselves out playing late into Saturday night, their overtime semifinal against UCLA ending on star freshman Suggs’ 37-foot bank shot. They did not lose because they were carrying a greater burden as the team chasing an undefeated season.

“I never felt like we played with that weight all year,” Few said. “I always felt like we were the aggressor and we were always — I call it attack mode. And we just ran into a team tonight that was, they were the aggressor, clearly. So I think that put us back definitely on our heels on both ends.

“And, look, I’ve been watching them all year and watching last year and I knew they were going to be a handful for us. Just those guards are so quick and they can all get to their own shot. They’re obviously more athletic than we are up around the rim. But I thought we might be able to find some advantages, too, and we just weren’t quite able to do that.”

MORE: Live updates, highlights from Baylor’s rout of Gonzaga

They lost because Baylor is excellent: big, powerful, deep and outrageously skilled. The Bears’ backcourt trio of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague combined to hit 7 of 16 from 3-point range, and reserve Adam Flagler hit 3 of 4.

They lost because the Zags were not excellent on this evening, in stark contrast to what they had been so many times before.

The 2017 loss to North Carolina went down to the final minute before the Tar Heels seized the game. It was closer to the first minute when this one was decided. The Zags were beaten early and often by Baylor’s dynamite guards and rugged big men. They were beaten inside and out, at the offensive end and on D. They were beaten on the boards (38-22) and on the perimeter (14 turnovers, too many of them resulting from dribbling the ball in the vicinity of multiple defenders).

Baylor informed the Zags early that its preference for a four-guard lineup was going to be problematic. The Bears grabbed five of the first eight rebounds that came off their offensive board. By halftime, they owned nine offensive rebounds, a 47.3 percent rate, and that improved to 48.5 percent by the end. The best offensive rebounding team in college basketball this season, North Carolina, averaged 40.9.

Perhaps even a greater issue was Gonzaga’s decision to switch at all five positions, often leaving Timme matched on a guard, often Butler, Mitchell or Teague. Those three combined for 31 of Baylor’s 47 first half points.

Whatever defense they were playing, and however ineffective it was, there was no way the Zags were going to win without hitting some 3-point shots. And they missed six of their first seven and finished 5 of 17. Kispert, an All-American, showed off his ability to play above the rim at both ends, again, but he continued a mild (but horribly timed) shooting slump by hitting just 2 of 7 from deep, bringing his three-game Lucas Oil Stadium total to 7 of 25. That’s 28 percent. He entered the Elite Eight shooting .461 from deep.

“Especially in this kind of a place, in this environment — the more aggressive team gets more calls. The more aggressive team makes more 3s,” Kispert said. “The more aggressive team gets more rebounds. And they punched us in the mouth right at the get-go. And it took a long, long time for us to recover and start playing them even again. But then it was too late.”

It did not end pretty the last time an undefeated team came this close to winning the championship, when Larry Bird and Indiana State got to the title game and found his team, as well, physically overmatched in the frontcourt.

LIST: The 37 best teams not to win a national championship

“It’s a really, really tough one to end a storybook season on,” Few said. “But listen, Baylor just beat us. They beat us in every facet of the game tonight and deserve all the credit. And obviously we’re all disappointed in here, but, you know, as I told the guys, like, you make it this far and you’re 31-0 going into the last one, the last 40 minutes of the season, there’s absolutely nothing you should ever feel bad about. And they’ll look back on this season as time passes as something just amazing and incredible.”

(Getty Images)

The Zags entered this weekend as though approaching an intersection. We aren’t much for those around Indy. We prefer left turns and roundabouts, but approaching this sort of either/or was inevitable for a team arriving at the Final Four with a perfect record. There were two directions, and picking one was mandatory.

On one side were the seven teams that completed an entire college basketball season without defeat and with an NCAA championship. Some of us can list them all without looking it up: 1956 San Francisco, 1957 North Carolina, 1964 UCLA, 1967 UCLA, 1972 UCLA, 1973 UCLA and 1976 Indiana. The NCAA Tournament first was played in 1939, and only that elite group was able to complete the entire journey to perfection.

On the opposite side were the teams, an imprecise collection, who came so close to finishing undefeated but could not. There were those that got deep into the season before stumbling at least once, and then approached the title without grabbing it: UMass 1996, Illinois 2005, Memphis 2008. There were those that made it all the way to the Final Four before seeing their mark spoiled: UNLV 1991 and Kentucky 2015, most prominently. There even were Bird’s 1979 Sycamores, who fell in the national championship game to Michigan State and Magic Johnson.

Every team in either group is legendary. So it wasn’t about whether Gonzaga would be able to seize greatness. That already had been achieved. It was about completing the job. This did not happen.

“You kind of forget. You really do forget what it’s like to lose,” Kispert told Sporting News. “And every time it happens, it doesn’t feel good. And thankfully I’ve had not very many of them over my career, whether it’s in the regular season or in the tournament.

“But I mean, when you come up against a team like that who is just firing on all cylinders for 40 minutes, it’s really hard to compete with. So, yeah, you kind of forget and it doesn’t feel good. I’m going to remember this for a long time.”

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Is Julian Edelman a Hall of Famer? Twitter debates retired receiver’s credentials

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Is Julian Edelman a Hall of Famer? Twitter debates retired receiver's credentials

Julian Edelman called it quits Monday, announcing his retirement after an 11-year NFL career, all of it spent with the Patriots.

Edelman’s final stat line: 620 receptions for 6,866 receiving yards (11 yards per reception) and 36 receiving touchdowns; 58 rushes for 413 yards (7.1 yards per carry); 177 punt returns for 1,986 yards and four touchdowns. His yardage ranks 156h in NFL history, and his receiving touchdowns are tied for 261st.

Zero Pro Bowl selections. Three Super Bowl rings. One Super Bowl MVP. And a member of the Patriots’ 2010 All-Decade team.

Now, the ensuing debate: Are those numbers good enough to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (which Edelman won’t be eligible for until 2026)? The pure numbers say no, but that didn’t stop Twitter users from making “HOFer” and “Edelman” trend Monday evening as they discussed Edelman’s Hall of Fame credentials.

MORE: Why did Patriots cut Julian Edelman? Failed physical only part of New England roster move

Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer in May 2019 made a compelling argument that Edelman’s Hall of Fame case isn’t so cut and dry. Working in Edelman’s favor is the fact that only Jerry Rice ranks ahead of Edelman in postseason receptions (151 to Edelman’s 118) and receiving yards (2,245 to Edelman’s 1,442). He was also one of the favorite targets of Tom Brady — himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer — as the two won three Super Bowls together.

But Edelman only led the Patriots three times in receiving yards, and never put together more than 1,117 yards in a season (in 2019, his last fully healthy season). He had three 1,000-yard receiving seasons and never scored more than seven receiving touchdowns a year. People were also quick to point out his stats pale in comparison to other non-Hall of Famers with considerably better stats, including Hines Ward, who in 2021 failed to make it into Canton for the fifth consecutive year.

Regardless of whether Edelman makes it into the Hall of Fame, the fact that his candidacy is so hotly debated — not even 24 hours removed from announcing his retirement — is a testament to his impact on the game.

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Why did Patriots cut Julian Edelman? Failed physical only part of New England roster move

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Why did Patriots cut Julian Edelman? Failed physical only part of New England roster move

The Patriots sent shockwaves throughout the NFL on Monday — tremors, at least — with the announcement that they would cut veteran receiver Julian Edelman.

Multiple reports suggest that New England cut Edelman, 34, because he failed his physical; he would have played his 12th season in the league in 2021 after missing the final 10 games of the 2020 season while recovering from knee surgery.

That said, New England’s decision to cut Edelman was more than just a simple failed physical. Either way, Monday’s decision could put the cap on an 11-year career that saw Edelman catch 620 passes for 6,822 yards and 36 touchdowns and win three Super Bowls.

NFL MOCK DRAFTS 2021: Compare Mel Kiper, Daniel Jeremiah, Todd McShay & other experts

Here’s everything you need to know about the decision, and Edelman’s future in the NFL.

Why did the Patriots cut Julian Edelman?

The initial reason for Edelman’s tenure ending in New England was a failed physical. That makes sense on the surface, considering that the 34-year-old receiver played in the fewest games in a given season since he entered the NFL in 2009. Considering how busy New England coach/GM Bill Belichick was in free agency, it also stands to reason that Edelman would have seen fewer targets in 2021 after the Patriots added receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, and tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.

However, that was only part of the Patriots’ decision. Per Mike Weiss of ESPN, the decision could simply be a formality and precursor to Edelman retiring from football.

Edelman later confirmed rumors that he was, indeed, retiring. Edelman, in a pre-recorded video, announced his decision.

Why is Edelman retiring from the NFL?

In the video, Edelman credited an undisclosed knee injury from the 2020 season as the reason for his retirement. He underwent surgery on Oct. 29 and did not return for the remainder of New England’s 7-9 season.

“Nothing in my career has ever come easy. And, no surprise, this isn’t going to be easy, either,” Edelman said in his announcement. “I always said, ‘I’m gonna go until the wheels come off.’ And they finally have fallen off. Due to an injury last year, I’ll be making my official announcement of retirement from football. It was a hard decision, but the right decision for me and my family. And I’m honored, and so proud, to be retiring a Patriot.

That last line also puts an end to any rumors that Edelman will attempt a comeback somewhere else in the NFL — notably, in Tampa Bay with former teammates Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

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Dustin Poirier says Conor McGregor never donated promised $500K to former’s charity

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Dustin Poirier says Conor McGregor never donated promised $500K to former's charity

Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor are confirmed to be fighting again … on Twitter.

The latest clash between the two UFC fighters stems from a Poirier claim Sunday night that McGregor and his team failed to deliver on a promised $500,000 donation. It would have gone to Poirier’s charity, “The Good Fight,” after their UFC 257 bout in January, which Poirier won via second-round TKO.

McGregor responded in kind, saying that Poirier never said exactly where the money was going and how it would be used.

MORE: Francis Ngannou wins heavyweight title at UFC 260 after KO of Stipe Miocic

All this stemmed from a 2020 exchange between the two fighters where McGregor teased a comeback outside of UFC. He proposed a PPV with Poirier, saying all the money would go to charity. He eventually settled on the $500,000 amount, which would be donated after their January bout. Poirier confirmed in December 2020 that McGregor’s team had begun the process of donating to his foundation.

Poirier and McGregor’s online squabble further devolved from there, with Poirier claiming that McGregor’s team quit responding to emails and McGregor calling Poirier a “brain dead hillbilly” — before canceling their trilogy fight.

Both fighters have reportedly signed contracts to a trilogy fight on July 10 at UFC 264, though that promotion hasn’t been made official. What’s also uncertain is whether McGregor’s claim that the fight is off is him simply letting off steam or retaliation against Poirier.

Just another day in the UFC.

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