INDIANAPOLIS — Baylor, which spent the early part of the century as a men’s basketball hellscape crawling with skulduggery and worse, spent Monday night as a brilliant, kinetic credit to its sport. It became the 37th different college to win a national championship, and it carved out a starring presence in future discussions about who has made the highest climbs from the lowest depths.
Baylor’s 86-70 win — which followed a fast start with leads of 9-0, 23-8 and 35-16 — cemented an NCAA men’s tournament in which it never really had to hyperventilate. Baylor (28-2) gave the record books some editing. The Bears placed Gonzaga (31-1) as the third team to go all the way to the final night unbeaten and then lose just once — after Ohio State in 1960-61 and Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in 1978-79 — and they prevented the Bulldogs from becoming the first team since Indiana in 1975-76 to spend a season free of losing.
“As RGIII would always say, ‘No pressure, no diamonds,’” Baylor Coach Scott Drew said in reference to a certain Baylor quarterback. “Our guys, the better the opponent, the better they play.”
“Well, hey,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said, “it’s a really, really tough one to end a storybook season, but listen, Baylor just beat us. They beat us in every facet of the game tonight.”
“You really do forget what it’s like to lose,” Gonzaga senior all-American Corey Kispert said.
The reminder came swiftly, and emphatically, and with the charismatic verve and prowess of Baylor’s four indomitable guards — Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Adam Flagler. “We say it all the time: We think we’re the best guards in the nation,” Butler said, and they went about making that as close as it gets to inarguable.
They filled the court with splashy three-point shots and picturesque assists. They operated with a charismatic energy and prowess with which Gonzaga could not cope, on both ends, right from the first steps out of the locker room.
It left a wide range of effects. It took a Gonzaga-Baylor matchup craved all year long and left it deflated of suspense, two nights after that paragon of suspense, Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime win over UCLA. It took the level of a Baylor team that lost a smidgen of its zest after a quirky three-week coronavirus hiatus in February, and it restored it to resemble the team that had spent the first 18 games of the season unbeaten itself.
It acted like some awful wind going through Gonzaga, defusing its 92-points-per-game offense and leaving it flustered. It ended a 55-year schneid for the state of Texas, which had won only one other national title, that of the historic Texas Western team of 1966. It enabled Baylor, somehow, to beat Gonzaga to the punch of a first national title, even though the latter has been at this March Madness for a bewildering 22 straight tournaments, including two closing-night losses since 2017.
Most of all, it left an implausible pinnacle at the end of the 18th season of Drew, who signed on at a nadir of nadirs in August 2003, after one teammate had murdered another and a head coach had tried to slander the deceased amid a bushel of recruiting violations.
The numbers shouted the energy. Baylor took 24 of the game’s first 36 shots. It out-shot Gonzaga 67-49, so that the percentages (44.8 for Baylor, 51.0 for Gonzaga) went moot. There were 38 rebounds to 22 for Gonzaga, 16 offensive rebounds to five. There were 10 for 23 on three-point shots, befitting the team ranked No. 1 nationally in that vein, to just 5 for 17 for Gonzaga.
“The more aggressive team gets more calls,” Kispert said. “The more aggressive team makes more threes. The more aggressive teams gets more rebounds.”
From a team so hard to guard because the guards all can create their own shots and their own dents in your night, Butler had 22 points, 4 for 9 on three point shots and seven assists, becoming most outstanding player of the Final Four. Teague had 19 points, Mitchell 15 points, six rebounds and five assists, Flagler 13 points. Gonzaga, like many before it, didn’t really know where to look.
Then there’s this, from Drew: “I mean, we’re really good defensively.” That’s especially true with Mitchell, the defensive player of the year in the whole land of defenders.
“They were just so much more aggressive,” Few said. “They — literally, we haven’t played like that this year. They literally busted us out of anything we could possibly do on offense. We were playing with our back to the basket, not facing up. And we couldn’t get anything generated to the basket; we were kind of playing sideways.”
They played sideways from behind. From 0-0, Mitchell drained a 16-footer after two energetic offensive rebounds, Mark Vital bounced a pretty assist to Butler for a layup, Mitchell blasted in a three-point shot, and Butler weaved through half the entire defense through the lane for a layup. It stood 9-0, and it would never get any closer than 11-4.
“The start of the game was tremendous,” Butler said. “I know I didn’t, Adam didn’t, Mark didn’t, we didn’t look at the scoreboard.”
They just kept scoring, and as Butler realized Gonzaga did not seem to be scoring as often, he figured the margin might be gaping even if he couldn’t be sure. Then, when the Bulldogs provided glimmers by narrowing things to 47-37 at halftime and 58-49 with 14:29 left, the Bears merely would re-surge. So troubled were they at halftime that when they emerged, Butler, who had struggled with his shot in the first parts of the tournament, rained in two colossal three-point shots with a look of uncommon certainty.
It left Gonzaga in these odd sorts of pieces. Jalen Suggs, forever famous for his 37-foot shot that ended the UCLA drama, had early foul trouble three-plus minutes in, 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting and many bold moves to the basket, but limited effect somehow. Big man Drew Timme, who had 19 assists and five turnovers in the tournament coming in, had five turnovers and three assists this time. Kispert shot 5 for 12 with 12 points.
All of it got lost in the stunning energy. All of it demanded a look back at the beginning, when Drew went 21-53 the first three seasons coming out of the wreckage and had the unenviable pleasure of conducting walk-on tryouts. He laughed out loud at that thought.
“Well,” he said, “obviously going into every game being 30- or 40-point underdogs and half your team walk-ons, and you know as a coach, if we can just keep it close, keep it within 20 by the first half, or 10 …”
Now, look. Now Butler followed Drew at the interview table, sat down and said, “Well, that’s the end of the season,” and broke into a considerable smile that looked downright electric.
— Story by Chuck Culpepper
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Baylor keeps double-digit lead as game nears final stretch
Gonzaga is starting to run out of time to stage what would be a massive comeback. The tournament’s top seed continued to trail Baylor by double digits, 75-59, as the game went under eight minutes to play.
With 14:30 left, the Bulldogs trimmed their deficit to nine for the first time since the Bears held a 13-4 lead five minutes into the contest. However, Baylor immediately went on a 15-4 run to stretch its lead to 20.
Adding to Gonzaga’s challenges is that star forward Drew Timme was hit with his fourth foul with under 12 minutes left and went to the bench, where he was treated for a hip injury. He had 12 points at the time, while freshman Jalen Suggs led the Bulldogs with 19.
Baylor’s Jared Butler led all players with 20 points and teammate MaCio Teague had 16. The Bears had a major edges in rebounds (29-18) with far fewer turnovers (6-11), allowing them to take 19 more shots than the Bulldogs, who were actually shooting a better percentage from the field (53.8-46.6).
Up 10 at halftime, Baylor inched its lead to 11 four minutes into the second half of the NCAA title game against Gonzaga. Junior guard Jared Butler, the Bears’ leading scorer, hit two three-pointers shortly after the break to keep the Bulldogs at arm’s length.
Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert, a consensus first-team all-American this season, suffered a shoulder injury early in the second half but returned to the game after a short stint on the bench. He has seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. Butler is the game’s leading scorer with 16 points.
The Bears certainly appeared better-rested Monday — not to mention better in a number of other important areas — as they dominated the undefeated Bulldogs in the first half of the national championship game. However, Gonzaga closed out the half on an 11-4 run to make a game of it.
Baylor’s top three scorers this season — MaCio Teague, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell — combined for 31 points and were well-supported by reserve guard Adam Flagler, who scored eight points. Baylor starter Mark Vital had five offensive rebounds as his team took a 9-3 edge in that category and a 16-10 advantage in total rebounds.
The Bears also shot the ball extremely well. They made their first five three-pointers and ended up 7-of-12 from long range, while Gonzaga made just 1 of 6 shots from long range. The Bulldogs were also uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball, committing eight turnovers.
Gonzaga had the biggest issues with foul trouble early in the game, when star freshman Jalen Suggs picked up two and sat on the bench for several minutes of game time. Baylor ended the half with three players charged with two fouls, including Butler. Reserve forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua has three fouls.
Gonzaga is looking to become the first unbeaten Division I men’s basketball champion since Indiana in 1976. At this point, though, the tournament’s top overall seed is looking much more like Indiana State in 1979, when Larry Bird and his Sycamores took a perfect record into the national championship game only to lose to Magic Johnson and Michigan State.
According to ESPN, only two teams have successfully rallied from deficits of 12 or more points in the NCAA title game: Loyola Chicago in 1963, after it was down by 15, and Kentucky in 1998, which overcame a 12-point gap. Gonzaga has trailed Baylor by as many as 19 points.
The Bears got off to a start Baylor-made for success and held a 29-10 lead over Gonzaga at the midway point of the first half. Baylor’s two biggest stars, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, led the way with a combined 17 points as the Bulldogs looked discombobulated by the athletic, opportunistic defense they were facing.
Gonzaga turned over the ball five times in the first eight minutes, while Baylor had zero giveaways. Compounding the Bulldogs’ issues was that star freshman Jalen Suggs, who hit the miraculous game-winner against UCLA in the national semifinals, picked up two early fouls and went to the bench for several minutes. In other circumstances, Suggs might have stayed on the bench for the rest of the first half, but with a top-heavy team struggling not to fall too far behind before halftime, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few brought the guard back in.
Baylor was 4-of-4 from three-point range in the first 10 minutes, compared to 1-of-3 for Gonzaga. Perhaps the biggest surprise was a 10-5 advantage in rebounding for the smaller Bears.
Baylor won the opening tip of the NCAA championship game then went on to score the first nine points.
Bears guard Davion Mitchell, a leading candidate for tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, began the scoring by draining a jump shot after teammate Mark Vital twice missed closer shots but got his own rebound.
Mitchell went on to hit a three-pointer, and Jared Butler hit two shots as the underdog Bears moved ahead 9-0 in the first three minutes. The deficit was Gonzaga’s biggest of the tournament.
Gonzaga, the nation’s No. 1 team throughout the pandemic-interrupted season, has statistically been one of the best all time. Now the Bulldogs are on the doorstep of being a part of college basketball history.
The Few Crew enters the championship game against Baylor trying to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to complete a perfect season. Gonzaga is the first team to take an undefeated record into the championship game since Larry Bird and Indiana State, which lost the final to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in 1979.
Gonzaga has four players who average at least 12 points per game, and the team makes 64 percent of its two-point shots.
The regular season schedule called for Gonzaga and Baylor to play Dec. 5, but the game was called off less than two hours before tip-off because of a coronavirus outbreak in the Bulldogs program. Both teams were 3-0 at the time.
Point guard Jared Butler, the Bears’ leading scorer, entered the NCAA tournament shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range but slumped to 25 percent during the four tournament games before the Final Four. Against Houston, however, Butler made 4 of 5 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes and finished with 17 points, all scored in the first half. As a team, Baylor made eight first-half three-pointers against the Cougars.
The Bears have been one of the nation’s top teams all season thanks in part to their depth: Nine Baylor players average at least 10 minutes per game, and Coach Scott Drew has said his team has a “starting rotation” rather than a starting lineup. Eight players saw at least 15 minutes of action against Houston, including reserves Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Matthew Mayer, who both finished with double-digit scoring totals.
The clock shows 0:00, the ball remains airborne, and the term “buzzer-beater” has long since joined the lexicon of an eccentric land. And that ball’s destination can affect the jobs of coaches, the legacies of players, the lifetime statistics of programs, the coveted chance to remain in the bracket for at least a few more days, all of it.
Some of the plays transpired almost precisely as drawn or conceived. Others unfolded as if beholden to the magic of a child’s scribbling. And some proved so implausible that no child on Earth could have scribbled them. They’re the shots that sent the benches scrambling, the broadcasters screaming and the winners escaping, shots that have dotted the batty fabric of March Madness through the past four, bracketed decades.
Jalen Suggs entered the NCAA tournament pantheon Saturday with his overtime buzzer-beater to send Gonzaga into the national championship game. Before him, there were 37 game-winning buzzer-beaters — shots that landed with no time left on the clock — in the previous 40 years of the NCAA men’s tournament. Some have been launched from as far away as 50 feet and as close as the air above the rim. Here are some of the most memorable from each range.
INDIANAPOLIS — Somehow, a long and cumbersome men’s college basketball season has wriggled through all the cancellations and postponements and compromised sleep to a final game everyone coveted, yet that game seems somewhat an afterthought while the nation still gabs about another game.
Maybe the gabbing will have diminished once Gonzaga (31-0) and Baylor (27-2) tip off for the national championship Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, except that a chunk of the chatter will percolate for decades. That’s because Gonzaga’s impossibly dramatic 93-90 win in overtime Saturday night against UCLA in a national semifinal has burst into the front lobby of any March Madness museum, gathering wows that have pushed it all the way upward to somewhere alongside the famed Kentucky vs. Duke of 1992.
Already Gonzaga vs. UCLA has proved intoxicating and exhausting enough to dilute a thought that would have figured to dominate thoughts: Gonzaga’s pursuit of the first unbeaten season in the sport since Indiana’s in 1975-76. It would be something else — and something unforeseeable — if it were to affect this next shiny game, given how Gonzaga and Baylor held down the Nos. 1 and 2 spots almost all year with such rare perpetuity that they seemed to surround those rankings with yards and picket fences.
Semifinal highlights: Baylor dominates Houston from the start
INDIANAPOLIS — The Baylor men’s basketball rebuilding project began nearly two decades ago, when Scott Drew took over a program in shambles. Drew’s climb here — to such a dominant performance in a Final Four matchup against Houston — was gradual and seemingly on the cusp of coming to fruition for years. Losing seasons turned into NCAA tournament appearances. Those became Elite Eight berths, obvious markers of the program’s growth.
This postseason, the Bears climbed to the summit, reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1950. And when they finally had a chance to compete on that stage Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, they delivered a showcase, proving their worthiness and potential as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They dismantled No. 2 seed Houston, 78-59, and asserted their will from the start to earn a spot in Monday’s national title game.
Each time point guard Jared Butler nailed a three-pointer and at the end of every suffocating defensive possession, Baylor reinforced that it stood on a tier above the Cougars. Once a struggling program, the Bears have evolved into a consistent tournament team that has finally made it to the top.
“Every day you’re grinding,” Drew said. “And you really don’t look back. You just keep pressing forward.”
Semifinal highlights: Gonzaga stays undefeated with buzzer-beater in overtime
INDIANAPOLIS — Just as one of the most riveting, pulsating games in the whole lunatic history of March Madness seemed bound for a second overtime, and just as Lucas Oil Stadium seemed primed to witness five more minutes of basketball of rarefied caliber, a Gonzaga freshman of an otherworldly smoothness breezed across the half-court line but not by much. He let one fly like all Stephen Curry. The ball traveled its 40-ish feet, the red lights squared the backboard, and the horn sounded.
Then it became disorienting to stop gasping and start figuring out the ending. Then coaches and players would greet each other with various levels of congratulation, consolation and confusion. Then the so-called losers of this national semifinal, those winners from UCLA, would trudge off the court with dazed expressions. Had Jalen Suggs’s storybook shot just smacked the backboard and dived right down to take a 90-90 donnybrook and tilt it, 93-90, to Gonzaga? Had the Minnesotan with a soaring future — and a present not so bad, either — really charged across the court and hopped upon a table to revel like mad while everybody else tried to process the thing?
“I mean, it was nuts,” Suggs would say. “And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened.”
Gamecocks dominate: The women’s national championship is officially heading back to Columbia, S.C., for the second time in program history after a wire-to-wire 64-49 victory by South Carolina over Connecticut.