Photo by Todd Greene on Unsplash
The Baylor Bears took down the previously undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday to capture their first-ever collegiate basketball national championship.
Throughout the tournament, confined to venues in Indianapolis as part of COVID-19 protocols, March Madness once again lived up to its name and produced numerous notable upsets.
The No. 15 seed Oral Roberts Golden Eagles started the tournament by knocking off the No. 2 seed Ohio State Buckeyes in an overtime thriller, 75-72. Oral Roberts was led by the heroics of forward Kevin Obanor, scoring 30 points and racking up 11 rebounds alongside the nation’s leading scorer, Max Abmas, with 29 points, three assists, and five rebounds.
Oral Roberts then defeated the No. 7 seed Florida Gators in another three-point victory, advancing ORU to the Sweet Sixteen round. However, this was where Oral Roberts’ Cinderella story ends, as they lost to Arkansas 72-70 after Abmas’ missed a potential game-winning three-pointer.
UCLA also had a remarkable run in this year’s tournament. The Bruins entered the tournament as an 11th seed after winning their play-in game against Michigan State to make the 64-team field. They started their tournament by beating the sixth-seed BYU Cougars, then second-seed Alabama by 10 points and the Michigan Wolverines to make the tourney’s Final Four.
With all the momentum, the Bruins faced their biggest challenge yet in Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were looking to complete a perfect season, something not accomplished since 1976, and were only two wins away. In a game like no other, the Bruins provided the Bulldogs with their toughest competition to that point.
With Gonzaga leading by two with just under 8 seconds remaining in overtime, Bruins’ guard Johnny Juzang missed a floater at the rim but grabbed his own rebound and put it in to tie the game at 90. Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs then sprinted upcourt and heaved a 30-footer at the buzzer that banked it in to win it for Gonzaga, sending them to the National Championship game. Gonzaga was now just one win away from completing their perfect season.
Going into the tournament, the undefeated Bulldogs were the clear favorites to win. That result seemed more evident after they steamrolled their competition in their first four games, winning by an average of 24 points. The Bulldogs also entered the tournament averaging 91 points a game, and 73 of those points came from just their starting five: Jalen Suggs, Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Andrew Nembhard. They were the hottest team in the country, and nobody seemed able to stop them.
The effects of the dramatic battle with UCLA seemed to carry over to the championship game. The flow and energy of the Bulldogs in the finale were lacking, and Baylor took advantage.
The Bulldogs were simply outplayed and outhustled by Baylor throughout the game. The Bears jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Gonzaga did go on a run to cut the deficit to single digits but the firepower of the Bears was just too much. Baylor took down the undoubted favorites, 86-70, a season-low total for Gonzaga.
The Bears, led by junior guards Davion Mitchell and Jared Butler — who was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament — had an incredible run. They defeated No. 9 seed Wisconsin, No. 5 Villanova, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 2 Houston, and No. 1 Gonzaga.
By scoring 86 points in the championship game, Baylor played its best game of the tournament. Four Bears scored in double digits. Baylor also outrebounded Gonzaga by 16, while shooting significantly better from 3-point range and the free-throw line and won in the turnover department. That was the story of the game all night long, making it Baylor’s game to win and they did.
This was the first national championship win for the Baylor Bears and a March Madness tournament that will go down as one of the greatest.
Eric Hayrapetian can be reached at [email protected]