You can add the Gonzaga Bulldogs to teams like the 2007 New England Patriots, as being a team that fell just one game short of the perfect season. The Baylor Bears are the NCAA Champions for the first time after their 86-70 win over the Zags last night.
The win was a sweet one for the Bears and confirmed them as deserving National Champions after a series of solid performances throughout the tournament.
However, in a tournament that was full of surprises, twists, turns and drama, it perhaps saved the biggest surprise of all for its final game. The ease with which Baylor won the game.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) April 6, 2021
Zags Failed To Ignite After UCLA Drama
After the drama of their overtime buzzer-beating victory over UCLA, the Bulldogs looked a pale shadow of the team that had won all 31 of its previous games this season.
With their original matchup in December cancelled due to the pandemic, fans had been eagerly awaiting a matchup between the two teams widely regarded as the best in college basketball this year.
In truth, the Baylor Bears won this game at the very start when they blitzed the Zags early on to open up a 21-6 point lead over the Zags after the first few minutes of the game.
It was a gap that, try as they might, the Zags could not claw back.
Jalen Suggs hit 22 points for the Zags, but Drew Timme and Corey Kispert could only manage 12 each and Andrew Nembhard team high 4 assists shows just how much Gonzaga struggled to create opportunities against the Baylor defense.
Davion Mitchell scored most of his 15 points early in the game, with Jared Butler adding 22 more and MaCio Teague adding a further 19 for the Bears as they not only led the first half by ten points, but also scored six more than the Bulldogs in the second too.
Incredible Achievement For Scott Drew
For the Bears headcoach Scott Drew, the win represents a landmark moment in his lengthy spell as headcoach at Baylor.
Drew inherited a team in disarray and at the very bottom of College basketball. From that lowest of low points, Drew has built up the Bears to become one of the powerhouse teams in Texas and nationally after leaving Valparaiso to take on the challenge.
Following the game, Drew paid tribute to the fans that have stuck by the team during its leaner times.
“Our fans that have been with us for the lean years, the good years… they all deserve this, the city of Waco deserves this. Hey Texas, we got a national championship too! The state deserves this!”
— March Madness TV (@MarchMadnessTV) April 6, 2021
It is the first time that Drew has landed a National Championship and it is a deserved reward for his outstanding success in rebuilding Baylor over the years.
The Butler Did It
With 22 points and 7 assists in the final, the Bears Jared Butler was named the most outstanding player at the 2021 NCAA tournament.
Jared Butler wins Most Outstanding Player 🔥
Well deserved. pic.twitter.com/mFfSRoLudQ
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 6, 2021
It was a fitting reward for Butler, who opted not to enter the 2020 NBA Draft despite speaking to 20 of the 30 NBA teams last year. He announced his decision to remain in college one more year, citing “unfinished business” as the reason.
“Baylor, I’m coming back, let’s go win a national championship.” He said somewhat presciently when announcing his decision to return to Baylor for another year, rather than turn professional.
He has now delivered on that promise and no doubt, his draft stock will have risen after his superb performances throughout the tournament and in the final in particular.
In the second half, his two early three-pointers stopped the small amount of momentum Gonzaga had gained at the end of the first half and that re-established Baylor’s momentum and lead. Those two key scores gave Baylor the advantage once again and they would never relinquish it in the time remaining.
Butler is projected to be a late first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, his performances in the NCAA tournament at clutch times for the Bears may well have seen him move up a few teams’ draft boards as a result.
The Bears team will go down in NCAA history as the winners of this tournament. For Gonzaga, it is bitter disappointment and the realisation that while they were so close to perfection, it remained just out of reach.