There was another team out there marching unbeaten through the season that looked unstoppable at times and with all arrows pointing to a national title.
Covid-19 put an end to the unbeaten dream. Nothing could stop Baylor from cutting the nets.
Not even Gonzaga.
The newly minted bears wiped out the shaky Gonzaga march for its own undefeated season on Monday night. It was an 86-70 runaway that brought the first national title of this once suppressed program back to Waco, Texas.
Jared Butler scored 22 points and MaCio Teague had 19 for the bears (28-2), who ranked second or third on the AP poll for the year. But never first. It was down to a team and maybe, just maybe, a three-week hiatus that stalled a 17-0 start and lost part of Baylor’s burgeoning momentum.
“Before Covid, we and Gonzaga were on our way to unbeaten,” coach Scott Drew reminded everyone in the socially distant arena during a television interview as he wiped away confetti.
Perhaps that outbreak should be remembered in one of the most anticipated finals – a meeting between teams whose own regular season matchup was retired in December due to a coronavirus outbreak – shouldn’t be such a shock.
The two losses recorded after Baylor’s Covid-19 hiatus in February were a distant memory in March. Then April came and the feeling got even stronger.
Baylor prevailed against all six opponents of the tournament with an average of 15 points. It beat Houston by 19 in the semifinals. Less than 5 minutes into the final, the Bears were double digits ahead of Gonzaga.
The bears hit the offensive glass – Baylor won this fight 16-5 – and won the lion’s share of the 50:50 balls. They didn’t want to let this one turn into a miracle by Jalen Suggs. The Gonzaga newcomer’s summer beater near the Half-Court logo brought the Zags to the final in a game that was considered the first real test of the season.
You went against UCLA. Against Baylor? Not even close.
“When you play a team that only shoots cylinders for 40 minutes, it’s difficult to compete with them,” said Zags forward Corey Kispert.
After gaining a 19-point lead early on, the Bears never let Gonzaga get any closer than nine. Butler made four 3-points and added seven assists and was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
“I knew at some point we were big,” said Butler, who insisted his team not focus on the scoreboard. “We hit, they didn’t. It was just electrifying.”
Guard Davion Mitchell – nicknamed “Off Night” because so many opponents come up against you when they go up against him – finished the race with 15 points and did the best he could on Suggs. The freshman finished the game with 22 points, most of them after that game got out of hand, and will likely go to the NBA draft next.
Gonzaga’s first loss in 32 games this season – 36 from 2019-20 – leaves Indiana’s team the last to go undefeated from 1975-76.
Baylor had taken the lead 9-0 after 2 1/2 minutes and the Bulldogs only suffered their fourth double-digit deficit of the season 11-1. They recorded their biggest deficit of the season – 15 points – at 7:10. By then, Suggs had had two fouls and was watching from the bench.
After the game, he cried and buried his head on the shoulder of one teammate, then another.
“He’s a winner and lost for the first time in college basketball,” said Zags coach Mark Few. “He’s very competitive and doesn’t like to lose. In his mind he saw how we cut nets.”
But more than anything else he did in the title game, it was Suggs’ memorable basket two nights earlier that laid the foundation for Gonzaga in this one. His bench shot on the summer against UCLA brought to a close one of the most exciting college basketball games of all time. About 46 hours after that emotional roller coaster ride, it was clear again that the Zags had been gassed.
The sequence that best illustrated the energy gap came about six minutes into the competition when Baylor’s Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua knocked the ball out of Drew Timme’s hands and the bears were working the ball in front of Mitchell. He missed a layup, but Tchamwa Tchatchoua got the offensive rebound and fed Adam Flagler for a 3rd.
Gonzaga was practically there for everything.
Few, now 2-0 in title games, gave Baylor the full credit and did not blame the fatigue of his own team.
“Obviously it’s a tough turnaround, but it was more just Baylor’s aggressiveness and athleticism,” said Few. “You deserve it. To be honest, they were great.”
Gonzaga drew short within nine minutes at the start of the second half and saw a glimmer of hope when Tchamwa Tchatchoua came on the bench with four fouls on another great Baylor man, Flo Thamba.
But Baylor responded with a 9-2 run, interrupted by Mark Vital’s rejection of Kispert, then a quick pause that resulted in an easy 3 from Flagler.
After that it was over. Yes, Gonzaga was perhaps the most observable team of the year with its dramatic run to perfection, not to mention the shot of the tournament.
But it was Baylor, not Suggs, who jumped on the goalscorer’s table and cheered the fans on at the end. And those were the bears who cut the nets.
“When the fans are happy, it makes our players happy and proud,” said Drew. “You stayed with us, you spent the lean years with us. You deserve it.”
In 2003, Drew took on a roster of just seven fellows and a team that stared at years of NCAA parole after a teammate murdered player Patrick Dennehy.
Drew’s introductory press conference was trending after the title game. On that day, he was formally standing behind the lectern in a coat and tie and proclaimed, “I didn’t come to go to the NCAA tournament. We won games at the NCAA tournament. We had a chance to win a national championship. ” at Baylor University. “
Eighteen years later, Drew was behind another microphone.
He was sitting at a table answering questions about Zoom against a backdrop with a Final Four logo.
He smiled broadly, drenched in sweat and had a cut net around his neck.