Brandon Clarke, Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga Beat Baylor; Advance to Sweet 16

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - MARCH 23: Brandon Clarke #15 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs react to a play against the Baylor Bears during their game in the Second Round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 23, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Top-seeded Gonzaga defeated ninth-seeded Baylor 83-71 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the 2019 NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Brandon Clarke led the Zags with 36 points—a school record in the Big Dance—on 15-of-18 shooting, while Rui Hachimura finished with six points and five boards.

A 22-point effort from Makai Mason helped propel the Bears into the second round with a win over Syracuse, but the senior guard was unable to provide similar heroics Saturday. Mason shot 5-of-16 en route to 17 points.

Hachimura often grabs the headlines for Gonzaga. He's the team's leading scorer (20.1 points entering Saturday) and is widely considered the Bulldogs' best pro prospect. Against Baylor, Clarke showed why he was just as important to Gonzaga's success this season.

Two years ago, Clarke averaged 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists for a San Jose State team that finished 14-16. On Saturday, he enjoyed arguably the best performance of his college career in his biggest game to date.

In addition to his gaudy point total, Clarke had eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and five blocks. According to ESPN Stats & Info (h/t ESPN.com's Jeff Borzello), he's the third player in tournament history with at least 35 points and five blocks—Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson being the others.

This will be a showing that NBA scouts and team executives look at frequently whenever the time comes for Clarke to enter the draft.

As great as he was, Baylor might have made this more of a game were it not for the team's dreadful offensive start. The Bears shot 8-of-27 from the field and 1-of-10 from beyond the arc over the first 20 minutes.

Compounding matters, Clarke was scoring at will inside. He made eight of his 10 shots and dropped 18 points on Baylor in the first half. At 6'8", the junior forward doesn't possess overwhelming size, yet he feasted on a Bears defense that has struggled with rim protection for much of the season.

On occasion, Gonzaga turned its suffocating defense into quick points. Geno Crandall capitalized on an errant pass to get a steal and then find Clarke for a breakaway two-handed jam to put the Bulldogs ahead 23-11 with 9:48 left in the half.

The Zags also used ball movement to get Baylor out of position and open up a lane to the basket for Clarke.

Baylor stormed out of the gates to open the second half, going on a 10-0 run and trimming its deficit to six points.

Shortly after the Bears' blistering run, though, Mark Vital, who had 17 points and eight rebounds, picked up his third and fourth fouls of the game, thus necessitating his move to the bench. The sophomore guard returned and tried to stem the tide by getting three points the hard way as Baylor trailed 55-44.

Although putting Vital on the floor with four fouls made sense for Baylor, he had to hold back a bit, lest he get his fifth and foul out. That was a clear problem when Gonzaga switched Clarke onto Vital on defense.

The Bears continued to hang around throughout the second half but couldn't get within striking distance. Their 10-point run gave the fans some hope, but once that fizzled out, Gonzaga regained control.

For the Zags, Clarke essentially represented two automatic points on offense. As long as they funneled the ball inside to him, their possessions generally ended with a bucket.

By looking at Hachimura's stat line, one would've expected Gonzaga to be in serious danger of a second-round exit. Instead, Clarke stepped up, and the supporting cast did its part as well. Corey Kispert and Josh Perkins had 16 and 11 points apiece, and Killian Tillie's six rebounds helped the Bulldogs own a 39-27 edge on the glass.

        

What's Next?

Gonzaga will play No. 4 Florida State in the West Regional semifinals. The Seminoles beat Murray State 90-62 on Saturday.

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