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Baylor Put Together A Flawless Showing To Upset Gonzaga And Win The 2021 Men’s National Title

The Baylor Bears and Gonzaga Bulldogs faced off on Monday in Indianapolis, with the two teams combining for the best winning percentage in the history of the NCAA men’s national championship game. Gonzaga entered with an unbeaten record and a chance to make history but, for the vast majority of a 40-minute affair, Baylor was the superior team, and the Bears claimed the title with an 86-70 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Baylor dominated for the lion’s share of the first half, and their strong play began immediately. The Bears were the more physical, energetic team from the opening tip, scoring the first nine points and zooming to an 11-1 lead at the first TV timeout.

Gonzaga, the nation’s leading offensive team, didn’t score until the 16:16 mark and, with projected top-five pick Jalen Suggs in foul trouble, the Bulldogs were floundering. Things didn’t stabilize immediately, either, with Baylor pushing the margin to 21-6.

That was the largest deficit of the entire season for the Bulldogs, and the Bears kept coming, making their first five three-pointers to snatch a 29-10 advantage.

Finally, Gonzaga made their first run, outscoring Baylor by a 10-3 margin to cut the margin to 12, but Baylor then countered to reinstate a 17-point edge. Fortunately for Mark Few’s team, the Bulldogs had the last punch in the first half, using a 9-2 spurt over the last 2:16 to slash the margin to 47-37 at the break.

Gonzaga relied on the free throw line, making 12 of 13 attempts, in the first half, with Baylor generating second-chance opportunities (with nine offensive rebounds) and converting seven three-pointers on 12 attempts. Both teams were able to produce efficient overall offense, but the Bears essentially produced a quality look whenever they wanted, putting the Bulldogs on their heels.

In the second half, Gonzaga did manage to make it a single-digit game, albeit briefly. Gonzaga closed to within 58-49 with 14:30 to go but, seemingly on cue, Baylor put together a 9-2 run that was capped by a three-pointer from Adam Flagler with 12:54 to go.

At that point, Baylor was 10-of-18 from three-point range, with Gonzaga making just 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. That certainly wasn’t the only difference between the two teams, but the 27-point differential was telling in many ways.

Baylor extended its edge to 73-53 with 10:39 remaining, but there was one more (minor) threat from Gonzaga. Corey Kispert connected on a three-pointer with 7:09 to go, cutting the deficit to 75-62, and it would’ve been closer for the Bulldogs if not for a stretch of four missed free throws in five attempts. Still, Baylor was relentless, holding Gonzaga’s offense to just three points in the next four minutes to put the game away once and for all.

Though Baylor endured something of a midseason swoon coming out of a COVID-related pause, they were fantastic throughout the 2020-21 campaign, and Scott Drew’s peaked at a perfect time. They were fantastic defensively, taking Gonzaga out of its typical, free-wheeling style and, on the other end, Baylor strung together a flawless showing.

The Bears finished with 16 offensive rebounds (to just 17 defensive rebounds for the Bulldogs), and that helped to boost their efficiency to an obscene degree. On top of the second-chance opportunities, Baylor connected on 10-of-23 from three-point range, even with cooler shooting in the second half, and they were efficient at the free throw line, making 16 of their 18 attempts.

All-American guard Jared Butler finished with 22 points and seven assists, with fellow standout guard Davion Mitchell producing 15 points, six rebounds, five assists and elite-level defense. MaCio Teague added 19 points, with Adam Flagler contributing 13 points off the bench.

All told, it was a complete effort on the brightest stage for Baylor, and they are a thoroughly deserving national champion as a result. While some attention will undoubtedly be paid to Gonzaga falling one game short of an historic season, Scott Drew’s team was electric in cutting down the nets in Indianapolis.

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