Here are three thoughts on the Baylor Bears’ National Championship win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
BAYLOR MAKES HISTORY
With the 86-70 victory over Gonzaga, the Baylor Bears won their first men’s national championship in basketball. It was a watershed moment for a program that had not been to a national championship game since 1948, a Final Four since 1950, and was considered left for dead after one of the worst scandals in college sports history in 2003. But Scott Drew came to Waco and not only made the program respectable, but wrapped up an 18-year rebuilding job with a national championship. It was a long haul from Aug. 22, 2003, to April 5, 2021.
Baylor became the second team from the state of Texas to win a national championship. The first was Texas Western (now UT-El Paso) in 1966.
Baylor also carried out the legacy of the Cincinnati Bearcats. You see, back in 1962 two of the top three teams in the AP Top 25 also met in the national championship game. Ohio State was No. 1 wire-to-wire. Cincinnati was either No. 2 or No. 3. The Bearcats beat Ohio State in the national championship game.
Gonzaga was the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 wire-to-wire. Baylor was No. 2 or No. 3 all season. See where we’re going with that?
Baylor guard Jared Butler became the first player since Carmelo Anthony in the 2003 National Championship game to have at least 20 points and 7 assists in the title game. Butler finished with 22 points and seven assists.
MaCio Teague had 19 points, Davion Mitchell had 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. Adam Flagler had 13 points off the bench. Mark Vital had just six points, but he had 11 rebounds, including eight on the offensive glass. Flo Thamba had three points and six rebounds. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua had six points and two rebounds. Matthew Mayer had two points, two rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Baylor won with its calling cards — a huge night from the 3-point line (10-for-23) and stifling defense (14 Gonzaga turnovers and a plus-16 edge on the glass).
And Baylor ended the Big 12’s title drought. Kansas won the last national title back in 2008.
Now, the Bears can claim that mantle.
It was a national title 18 years in the making, thanks to Drew, and a title two years in the making, thanks to COVID-19.
THAT BRILLIANT FIRST HALF
Baylor got off to a great start for the third straight game, and that wasn’t surprising. How the Bears flat dominated the Zags for the first 15 minutes was surprising. Baylor started on a 9-0 run and Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs had two early fouls and had to leave the game. For most of the first half, Baylor shot right around 50 percent. In fact they finished at 51.4 percent at the end of the first half. But what was really critical for Baylor was the fact that it shot 7-of-12 in the 3-point line and had a plus-six edge on the glass (including a 9-3 edge on the offensive glass). That first half was how Baylor had to shoot the whole game. Gonzaga shot horribly for the first 12 minutes, but by the end of the first half it was shooting 52.4 percent from the floor. But the Bulldogs shot 1-of-6 from the 3-point line. What saved Gonzaga was a 12-for-13 clip from the free-throw line, and that was a big reason why Gonzaga finished the half on a 9-2 run. Baylor’s aggressive defense and pin-point 3-point shooting allowed the Bears to build as much as a 19-point lead before Gonzaga finally cut into it.
THE FINAL TURNING POINT
Gonzaga finally had a bit of momentum in the second half. The Bulldogs had the lead down to 11 and Baylor’s Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua was hit with his fourth foul. Flo Thamba already had his fourth foul. So the Bears were without their top two interior defenders. This felt like the time for Gonzaga to get back in the game. And, right after Tchatchoua left the game, Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard scored a lay-up to make it a nine-point game, 58-49. Baylor’s lead was single digits.
But, the Bears answered in a major way. Right after Nembhard scored, Baylor’s Jared Butler found Mark Vital alone under the basket for a layup. Then, on the other end, Butler forced a turnover out of Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, and that led to two Butler free throws on the other end.
Timme came back with a layup on the other end. But Baylor followed it with a MaCio Teague jumper, and then an Adam Flagler 3-pointer to push Baylor’s lead back to 67-51 with 12:54 left. That was too early to call the game, of course. Gonzaga still had plenty of time. But the Zags had a chance to really cut into the lead and they failed to capitalize because the Bears were able to compensate for the loss of their big men with their perimeter players and a 9-4 run in two minutes.
By midway through the second half Baylor had as much as a 20-point lead. And a big part of the reason why that stretch without Thamba and Tchatchoua mattered.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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