Baylor ends Gonzaga’s perfect season with a Texas-sized storybook finish

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Baylor’s nationwide championship season can’t be misplaced in perfection.

It’s true that perfection was misplaced: The Bears ended Gonzaga’s run at a 32-0 season with an 86-70 blowout victory within the NCAA Tournament nationwide championship recreation Monday. Baylor — whose personal bid for perfection ended on Feb. 27 with a 71-58 loss to Kansas — spoiled the Bulldogs’ probability to turn out to be the primary undefeated crew since Indiana in 1975-76.

The Bears (28-2) achieved that with the near-perfect two-way efficiency that capped a stretch of brilliance in a event the place COVID-19 was an ever-present backdrop.

“After 30 days in the bubble, you start not wanting to be around each other,” Baylor guard Jared Butler stated. “You’re around dudes all day. It’s hard. I don’t know how we got through it, but we got through it. We loved each other. We played so many games of Connect Four.”

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The Bears displayed the profitable mixture on the Final Four. Baylor beat Houston 78-59 within the nationwide semifinal and completed with a two-game margin of victory of 17.5 factors per recreation. The solely colleges within the expanded bracket period that were better on that stage had been 2015-16 Villanova (23.5 factors per recreation) and 1989-90 UNLV (19.5 ppg). That is prestigious firm value conserving.

This was presupposed to be the long-awaited Gonzaga nationwide championship coronation. The Bulldogs beat UCLA within the Final Four on Jalen Suggs’ overtime buzzer-beater for a 93-90 victory on Saturday. That was one of the greatest shots in one of many biggest video games in event historical past. Monday appeared like a logical spot to crown one of many sport’s biggest groups.

Yet Baylor coach Scott Drew took inspiration from the varsity’s solely Heisman Trophy winner to inspire this crew.

“One thing I can tell you about our guys is when the best is needed, the best is usually provided,” Drew stated. “As (Robert Griffin III) would always say, ‘No pressure. No diamonds.’ Our guys, the better the opponent, the better they play. They love to be the first. First to win a conference since 1950. First to win a national championship. That really motivated them.”

That was evident from the beginning. Baylor jumped out to a 9-0 lead, then an 11-1 lead, within the first phase — with the assistance of two fast fouls on Suggs. It was the biggest deficit Gonzaga confronted your entire event. Baylor prolonged that result in 33-14 with 7:51 within the first half, at which level it had dedicated zero turnovers.

The Bears constructed that lead with the new-age championship mixture of protection and the 3-point shot. Baylor hit 7 of 12 from 3-point vary within the first half, with MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell combining for twenty-four factors. Gonzaga was simply 1 of seven from that vary, however the Bulldogs nonetheless managed to get again inside 10, slicing Baylor’s result in 47-37 at halftime.

“We’re really good defensively, and I thought we made things tough tonight,” Drew stated. “Gonzaga missed some shots that they probably normally make. I really credit our guys for making it difficult.”

Butler hit back-to-back 3-pointers to begin the second half as a part of a outstanding efficiency through which he completed with 22 factors, seven assists and 6 rebounds. Gonzaga trimmed the result in 9, however Baylor successfully put the sport away with a 7-0 run that ended with a perfect sequence.

Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert drove to the basket, however his shot was blocked by Mark Vital. Adam Flagler kicked the rebound to Butler to begin the break, and he returned a cross-court cross to Flagler — who buried a 3-pointer for a 67-51 lead with 12:52 remaining.

MORE: Breaking down the 1-minute, 36-second stretch that ended Gonzaga’s title hopes

Gonzaga by no means threatened once more. The Bears ended the Bulldogs’ perfect season, however that does not imply this is not a huge story. After all, the whole lot is greater in Texas, proper?

“Hey Texas, we have a national championship, too,” Drew shouted through the presentation. “The state deserves it.”

It got here from probably the most unlikely place. The Bears turned the primary Texas faculty to win a nationwide championship since Texas Western — now UTEP — shocked Kentucky 72-65 in 1966. Baylor (1948), Houston (1983, 1984) and Texas Tech (2019) had been the one different Texas colleges to even play within the nationwide championship recreation earlier than Monday.

The Bears additionally legitimized the Big 12 and have become the primary faculty apart from Kansas to win a nationwide championship since Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State, in 1946. Baylor dominated the event with an eight-man rotation, high-scoring offense and half-court protection that smothered its six opponents by a median margin of victory of 15.3 ppg. The finest comparability can be Michigan State, which gained its six video games by the identical margin in 2000.

For Drew, it was the end result of an 18-year run that started with an 8-21 season in his first season in 2003-04. Scott’s father Homer and brother Bryce watched from the stands, a teaching household that has been a part of the March Madness story for the reason that Nineteen Nineties. 

“I can tell you in the coaching fraternity getting to a Final Four, very similar to winning a national championship,” Drew stated. “There’s normally some luck that goes into that. We did not even need to be fortunate as a result of our guys had been so dominant this whole event.

Baylor additionally gained the primary nationwide championship for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic, which compelled the cancellation of the 2020 males’s and girls’s basketball tournaments. It was the sudden lead to an unprecedented time in our nation’s historical past, and a reminder that perfection is not at all times what it appears. There must be nothing misplaced in that — even when it got here at Gonzaga’s expense. The NCAA topped a first-time champion, identical to it did with Virginia in 2019.

That is how Butler, the event’s Most Outstanding Player, will keep in mind this run. From Connect Four to the Final Four. 

“I think it’s harder to win it this year than ever before,” Butler stated. “The stoppages, the testing and the sacrifices to your social life just so you can play basketball games. I’m just thankful we were able to play and the tournament still could go on. It’s just cool to say we could do this in the midst of adversity.”

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