Baylor ends Gonzaga’s perfect season to win first men’s national championship

INDIANAPOLIS — An undefeated season looked over before the first TV timeout.

No. 1 seed Baylor couldn’t have scripted a better start, and overall No. 1 seed Gonzaga couldn’t have scripted a worse one. The Bears’ defense was smothering the Bulldogs into turnovers, the star guard trio of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell was shooting lights out, and Zags buzzer-beating hero Jalen Suggs got into early foul trouble.

The Bulldogs never recovered from that early knockout blow and watched their perfect season unravel as Baylor bulldozed its way to its first ever national championship in a 86-70 win Monday night.

Flo Thamba of the Baylor Bears is helped up off the court by teammates in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.

In a heavily hyped national championship game between two super teams that had been title-driven since last year’s NCAA Tournament cancelation, Baylor came out firing on all cylinders – making its first five three-pointers and finishing 46% from beyond the arc. All-American Butler (2 points, seven assists)and All Big 12 guard Teague (19 points) were draining pull-ups all night, while national defensive player of the year Davion Mitchell (13 points) was drawing charges and frustrating Suggs.

The “B-U” cheers echoed throughput Lucas Oil Stadium, and the coronation was in motion midway through the second half. The Zags cut the deficit to nine off an Andrew Nembhard lay-up with 14:30 left, but never got closer.

Whether it was Baylor’s Flo Thamba swatting a Corey Kispert lay-up into the third row in the first half or Jonathan Tchamwa slamming an Adam Flagler alley-oop in the second, a team that had won 31 consecutive times before Saturday looked severely out-matched against the gritty, high-energy Bears (28-2).

Suggs led Gonzaga with 22 pointsbut his playmaking was always countered by a Baylor three-pointer or matching bucket. Drew Timme added 12 points but that frontcourt edge didn’t offset a dominant backcourt battle won by Baylor and the Zags were out-rebounded 36-19.

The Bulldogs (31-1) were coming off a thrilling overtime win over UCLA in the national semifinal when Suggs’ buzzer-beating banked three sent the Zags to the title game. Yet they looked flat from the get-go and by the time they got their legs, it was too late. Gonzaga joins a group of teams that came close to matching Indiana’s historic 32-0 season, but ultimately fell short.

Baylor wins its first national title in program history, having finished as national runner-up in 1948. The championship is a culmination of an epic rebuild by coach Scott Drew, who took over an ailing program in the aftermath of controversy in 2003. The loss means coach Mark Few is now 0-2 in national championship games, with his Bulldogs having lost to North Carolina in the national title game in 2017.

Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.

You may also like...