Baylor Spoils Gonzaga's Undefeated Season, Wins 2021 NCAA Men's Championship

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVApril 6, 2021

Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

What a way to win the first men's national championship in program history.

Not only did the Baylor Bears win the 2021 NCAA tournament title with a commanding 86-70 victory over the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but they also prevented the Bulldogs from making history of their own.

Had Gonzaga won, it would have become the first men's college basketball team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers to go undefeated while winning the national championship.

Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell and Adam Flagler led the way for the Bears as they played the role of spoiler, while a solid showing from Jalen Suggs was not enough for the Bulldogs.

Notable Player Stats

  • Jared Butler, G, BAY: 22 PTS, 7 AST, 3 REB, 4-of-9 3PT
  • MaCio Teague, G, BAY: 19 PTS
  • Davion Mitchell, G, BAY: 15 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST
  • Adam Flagler, G, BAY: 13 PTS, 3-of-4 3PT
  • Jalen Suggs, G, GON: 22 PTS, 3 AST, 2 STL
  • Drew Timme, F, GON: 12 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST, 2 BLK

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Baylor Dominant from Start to Finish

This was the game the challengers have been waiting for all season.

After all, Baylor started the season No. 2 behind Gonzaga in the Associated Press Top 25 and was compared to the mighty Bulldogs throughout its own impressive campaign. It also lost a chance to make a head-to-head statement when the December matchup between the two squads was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns.

The Bears looked ready as ever out of the gates Monday.

Baylor jumped out to a commanding 19-point lead in the first half with Butler, Teague and Flagler draining threes, Mark Vital dominating the offensive glass and the Butler-Mitchell combination facilitating for others while remaining in attack mode.

Yet it was the defense against Gonzaga's top-ranked offense on KenPom.com that stood out the most. The Bears cut off driving lanes, pressured ball-handlers, forced turnovers, dove for loose balls and brought an intensity on that end of the floor that the Bulldogs struggled to match.

Things could have taken a turn for the worse when Flo Thamba and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua each picked up their fourth foul early in the second half as Gonzaga slowly chipped the lead to single digits.

Instead, the Bears had an answer for every counterpunch. 

They continued to pound the boards for 16 offensive rebounds and created plenty of mismatches with ball screens to free up Butler, Teague and Mitchell. They also sprinkled in a handful of key defense-to-offense sequences, including when a Vital block turned into a Flagler three to push the advantage back to 16.

The pattern continued throughout the rest of the game as the Big 12 representative completed a masterpiece of a performance to clinch the championship.

Gonzaga's Defense Goes Missing on Big Stage

All that was left for Gonzaga to finish its storybook season was the exclamation point.

The Bulldogs started the campaign atop the Associated Press Top 25. They didn't lose a single time while beating the likes of Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa and Virginia. And then they had one of the most memorable moments in Big Dance history at the Final Four when Suggs sent UCLA home in overtime with a buzzer-beater from just inside half court.

Turns out, that exclamation mark wasn't going to come easy.

Suggs went to the bench with two fouls in the first four minutes, and Gonzaga quickly found itself facing its biggest deficit of the season. It had no answers for Baylor's ball screens and cuts on offense and overwhelming athleticism on defense, and it seemed as if the game was over well before intermission.

To head coach Mark Few's credit, he recognized the mismatch in the athleticism department and switched to zone prior to halftime. That, along with a 13-2 advantage in free-throw attempts, helped them trim a 19-point deficit to just 10 by halftime and remain within striking distance.

Suggs also did what he could to help the Zags stay close by continuing to attack even when Drew Timme went to the bench with his fourth foul.

Still, the Bulldogs had no chance on the defensive end. Baylor shot them out of their zone and simply had too many mismatches to exploit when the WCC team went back to man-to-man. Gonzaga needed sustained runs to have a chance, and it couldn't string together enough stopsβ€”or defensive reboundsβ€”to complete any type of comeback.

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