INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (AP) – The Baylor Bears are celebrating.
Atop the summit of college basketball’s highest mountain.
Also spoiling the party for Gonzaga which was looking to become the first undefeated wire-to-wire national champion since Indiana’s title run in 1976.
Scott Drew and company were in command from tip-time at Lucas Oil Stadium, and walked away with an 86-70 victory and the program’s first NCAA men’s basketball crown.
All-American guard Jared Butler had 22 points and seven assists for the Bears in 86-70 victory Monday night. His backcourt mates did plenty as well.
MaCio Teague had 19 points and Davion Mitchell 15 for the Bears. Adam Flagler, a guard who will be back next season, added 13 points, and fifth-year senior Mark Vital had 11 rebounds. Baylor ended the season at 28-2.
Freshman Jalen Suggs had 22 points for Gonzaga, which finished 31-1.
Suggs, who banked in a game-winning 3-pointer from just inside half court in overtime to beat UCLA in the national semifinal game, scored 15 of his points in the second half. Drew Timme and Corey Kispert each finished with 12 points for the Zags.
The Bears from the Big 12 raced out a 9-0 lead in the game’s first 2 1/2 minutes and never trailed. They led by 19 midway through the first half, the largest deficit Gonzaga had faced all season, and it was as many as 20 points after halftime even after the Zags got back within single digits briefly.
Butler is the first player in a national championship game with at least 20 points and seven assists since Carmelo Anthony for Syracuse in 2003.
Gonzaga was practically just standing there for it all.
This was one of the most-anticipated finals in recent history, a meeting of the two best teams from the last two seasons – this one and 2020, when COVID-19 scrapped the action before tournament time. They were scheduled to meet this season in Indy, on Dec. 5, but a COVID-19 outbreak on the Gonzaga team ended those plans.
But the game didn’t live up to the hype, and it was out of hand early.
Baylor had nine offensive rebounds in the first half that led to nine second-chance points, and wore down the Zags on defense. Gonzaga shot 54% from the floor over the first 20 minutes but Baylor had 16 more attempts – the kind of math that doesn’t add up for a team playing in the title game.
One glimmer of hope for the Zags came when Tchamwa Tchatchoua joined another Baylor big man, Flo Thamba, on the bench with four fouls with 14:43 left.
Andrew Nembhard’s basket on the next possession cut Gonzaga’s deficit below double digits for the first time since early. Baylor answered with a 9-2 run punctuated by Mark Vital’s rejection of Corey Kispert, then a fast break that led to an easy 3 from Flagler.
It was over from there. Yes, Gonzaga might have been the year’s most watchable team with its dramatic run at perfection, to say nothing of the shot of the tournament.
But Baylor was cutting down the nets.
It’s the culmination of an 18-year rebuild, the likes of which no program has ever seen.
Coach Scott Drew took over a roster with only seven scholarship players and a team staring at years of NCAA probation in the wake of the murder of player Patrick Dennehy by a teammate in 2003. The Bears won only 21 games over Drew’s first three years.
It took a lot of imagination and more than a little faith to believe a day like this might happen.
It took the same thing to hang a loss on the Bulldogs.
But that kind of loss? Only Baylor could’ve seen that one coming.