“The only team that can beat Gonzaga is Gonzaga,” said one Bulldogs supporter. On Monday night, the No.1 overall seed entered the national championship game 31-0, one win away from perfection.
Enter the Baylor Bears out of the Big 12 Conference who entered the game defeating their opponents by an average of 15 points, including a 19 point slugging of in-state rival Houston in Saturday’s national semifinal.
The Bears and Bulldogs were scheduled to meet in late December in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. But that matchup was called hours before tipoff due to positive COVID-19 tests among the Gonzaga program.
It all worked out in the end, as both teams met on the game’s biggest stage in the season finale. Gonzaga was looking to put the finishing touches on a perfect season with a statement win. However, the Bears had other plans.
Baylor jumped out to an early lead and never let up as they defeated the Bulldogs 86-70 to claim the program’s first national championship. The Bears were led by junior Jared Butler who knocked down 22 points on 6 of 14 shooting from the field.
Butler was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He averaged nearly 14 points (13.8) five assists (4.6) and a shade over three rebounds (3.6) a game in the team’s five victories leading up to the title game.
MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell contributed to the Baylor onslaught adding 19 and 15 points respectively. As a team, the Bears shot 45 percent from the field and 43 percent from behind the arc.
“First and foremost, I want to thank God for blessing us with this opportunity tonight. I know the guys have worked really hard. And I’m so happy they get a chance to celebrate now,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “I thought we were on the mission to make the most of it. If we had lost, we wanted to make sure to have no regrets — we wanted to leave it all on the table.”
Gonzaga entered the title game easily handling their competition, winning their tournament games by an average of 24 points. They met their toughest test in the final four against No. 11 UCLA where it took late-game heroics from Jalen Suggs in overtime to punch the Bulldogs’ ticket to the championship.
On Monday, a completely different Gonzaga team took the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium against Baylor.
“It’s a tough turnaround, but just the aggressiveness and the athleticism of Baylor had us on our heels today, I don’t know if [the loss] was due to our fatigue,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “Usually when you’re the more aggressive team then you’re going to get the calls and you’re going to make the team, and clearly, they were way more aggressive than us the entire night.”
The Bulldogs finished the game shooting 51 percent from the field, struggling to find good looks from the arc shooting 29 percent and missing key free throws going 15-21 from the charity strike.
Gonzaga was led by freshman Jalen Suggs who finished the game with 22 points on 8 of 15 shooting. Suggs who was the hero in Saturday night’s thriller carried the team on his back along with others until the Bears delivered their knockout blows.
The Bulldogs also received help from Drew Timme and Corey Kispert who each scored 12 points.
Despite coming up short in finishing the season undefeated which was last done by the Indiana Hoosiers in 1976, it doesn’t take away from the accomplishments Gonzaga did this season.
“In life and in basketball, joy doesn’t come without a little bit of suffering – you can’t have one and not the other and it’s about dealing with those grave moments in your life and finding joy in those,” Kispert said. “That’s where real happiness comes from, and I’m so thankful for the way that this team handled adversity and suffering all year long and I’m definitely a better person because of it.”
The book is now closed on the 2020-21 college basketball season. The Baylor Bears had their one shining moment hoisting the trophy in Indianapolis as we now turn the page and wait for November to come for the start of the new season.
Featured Image: INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – APRIL 05: MaCio Teague #31 of the Baylor Bears drives to the basket against Andrew Nembhard #3 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the first half of the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 05, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)