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Baylor's Impeccable Start Ruins Gonzaga's Shot at Perfect Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 6, 2021

Baylor players and coaches celebrate after the championship game against Gonzaga in the men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Monday, April 5, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Baylor won 86-70. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS Baylor only had 48 hours to prepare for undefeated Gonzaga. Despite that small window, head coach Scott Drew and his staff devised the perfect strategy. And on the national championship stage, the players executed to perfection.

The plan? Brilliant, yet basic: Make a bunch of shots. If you miss, get the rebound and make a bunch more shots.

Genius, they say.

Basketball can be a complicated game, but Baylor required nothing fancy to rout Gonzaga 86-70 and secure the first men's national title in program history. It was a thorough, fundamental-driven blowout Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Among the Bears' first 20 shots, they hit 11including five threesand also grabbed six of their nine misses. At the halfway mark of the opening half, Baylor had rocketed to a 19-point lead.

No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga never gave in, but the Bears' advantage hardly dissipated. They held a double-digit edge for 34:02 of the 40-minute game, preventing the West Coast Conference powerhouse from becoming the first undefeated men's national champion since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers.

All night long, the Zags had no answers defensively.

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Gonzaga opened the game switching on screens, but Baylor's pick-and-roll offense overwhelmed the Bulldogs. Before halftime, head coach Mark Few moved to a zone, which the Zags had used for 22 possessions all season before Monday.

While the adjustment worked briefly, it wasn't a long-term solution. Gonzaga could not slow the relentless scoring attack.

Jared Butler, named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, piled up team-best marks of 22 points and seven assists. MaCio Teague scored 19 points, and Davion Mitchell capped his stellar March Madness run with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists.

Baylor, which boasted the No. 1-ranked perimeter group, shot 10-of-23 from beyond the arc and 16-of-18 at the free-throw line. Plus, led by Mark Vital's eight, the Bears snared 16 offensive rebounds and posted a 16-5 edge in second-chance points.

As a result, Gonzaga's incredible offense had zero margin for error. Still, the Zags endured a rough night on that end, too.

Baylor forced 14 turnovers and tallied a 19-9 advantage in points after turnovers. Gonzaga finished just 5-of-17 from the perimeter, and star forward Drew Timme did not produce as expected in a matchup that seemed to favor him dramatically.

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Flo Thamba and Vital took turns wrestling and pestering Timme. Baylor limited him to 12 points, forcing the All-American forward to work tirelessly for position and often moving him out of the post altogether. Timme committed five giveaways and four fouls in the loss.

JTT and Thamba both dealt with foul trouble, but their contributions in the first 25 minutes allowed Baylor to build a comfortable lead and protect it down the stretch.

Gonzaga star Jalen Suggsthe buzzer-beating hero against UCLAscored 22 points. His effort never slowed in what's likely the final game of the coveted NBA prospect's college career.

On this night, however, the Zags didn't have enough scoring depth to compete. Along with Timme's underwhelming showing, sharpshooter Corey Kispert went just 2-of-7 from three. Joel Ayayi, who put up 22 points on UCLA, managed just eight.

Baylor, as it has all season, excelled on both ends of the court. To accomplish that against a Gonzaga team chasing perfection, though, will be the enduring memory of this championship.

After the game, Drew shared a sincere moment of appreciation for the Zags and their pursuit of history.

"I have so much respect for Coach Few. Let's give Gonzaga a round of applause," he told a pro-Baylor crowd in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Respect, however, is the only thing the Bears afforded Gonzaga. They made sure the national championship trophy is bound for Waco—the only sensible ending after Baylor's perfect start.

          

Statistics courtesy of KenPom.com or Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.