Thursday, May 26

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

Baylor’s national championship season cannot be missed in perfection.

True, perfection was lost: The Bears ended Gonzaga’s streak in a 32-0 season with an 86-70 victory in the national championship game of the NCAA Tournament. Baylor, whose quest for perfection ended Feb. 27 with a 71-58 loss to Kansas, ruined the Bulldogs’ chance to become the first undefeated team since Indiana in 1975-76.

The Bears (28-2) accomplished that with the near-perfect two-way performance that capped a stretch of brilliance in a tournament where COVID-19 was an ever-present backdrop.

“After 30 days in the bubble, they start not wanting to be together,” Baylor point guard Jared Butler said. “I don’t know how we got over it, but we got over it. We love each other. We play a lot of Connect Four games.”

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The Bears found the winning combination in the Final Four. Baylor beat Houston 78-59 in the national semifinal and finished with a two-game margin of victory of 17.5 points per game. The only schools in the era of expanded support which were better in that scenario were Villanova 2015-16 (23.5 points per game) and UNLV 1989-90 (19.5 points per game). It is a prestigious company worth keeping.

It was supposed to be the long-awaited coronation of the Gonzaga national championship. The Bulldogs beat UCLA in the Final Four with Jalen Suggs’ overtime buzzer beater for a 93-90 victory on Saturday. That was one of the best shots in one of the best games in tournament history. Monday seemed like a logical place for the crowning of one of the best teams in sport.

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However, Baylor coach Scott Drew was inspired by the best football player in school to motivate this team.

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

With that, Baylor enjoyed the best possible start to the national title. The Bears jumped to a 9-0 lead, then an 11-1 lead, in the first segment, aided by two quick fouls over Suggs. It was the biggest deficit Gonzaga faced in the entire tournament. Baylor extended that lead to 33-14 with 7:51 in the first half, by which time he had committed zero turnovers.

The Bears built that advantage on the combination of a new-age championship defense and 3-point shooting. Baylor was 7 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half, with MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell combining for 24 points. Gonzaga was just 1 of 7 from that range, but the Bulldogs still managed to get back to 10, cutting Baylor’s lead to 47-37 at halftime.

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

Butler hit consecutive 3s to start the second half as part of a remarkable performance in which he finished with 22 points, seven assists and six rebounds. Gonzaga cut the lead to nine, but Baylor effectively put the game away with a 7-0 run that ended with a perfect sequence.

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Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert drove to the basket, but his shot was blocked by Mark Vital. Adam Flagler kicked the rebound to Butler to start the break, and he returned a cross pass to Flagler, who tripled for a 67-51 lead with 12:52 to play.

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Gonzaga never threatened Baylor again. The Bears ended the Bulldogs’ perfect season, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a great story. After all, everything is bigger in Texas, right?

“Hello Texas, we also have a national championship,” Baylor coach Scott Drew yelled during the presentation. “The state deserves it.”

It came from the most unlikely place. The Bears became the first Texas school to win a national championship since Texas Western, now UTEP, upset Kentucky 72-65 in 1966. Baylor (1948) and Houston (1983, 1984) were the only other schools in Texas. they even played in the national championship. championship game before Monday.

The Bears also legitimized the Big 12 and became the first school, other than Kansas, to win a national championship since Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State, in 1946. Baylor dominated the tournament with an eight-man rotation, an offense of high score and half court. defense that drowned his six opponents with an average margin of victory of 15.3 points per game. The best comparison would be Michigan State, which won all six of its games by the same margin in 2000.

For Drew, it was the culmination of an 18-year streak that began with an 8-21 season in his first season in 2003-04.

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Baylor also won the first national championship since the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the 2020 men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. It was the unexpected result at an unprecedented time in our country’s history, and a reminder that the perfection is not always what it seems. There should be nothing lost in that, even if it was at Gonzaga’s expense. The NCAA crowned a champion for the first time, just like it did Virginia in 2019.

From Connect Four to the Final Four. This is how Butler, the most outstanding player of the tournament, will remember this race.

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

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