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Monday night may have featured an all-time team.
It just wasn’t Gonzaga.
Baylor looked like the group chasing immortality and the team with all the first-round draft picks.
Its three-guard lineup of MaCio Teague, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell was dynamite. Its defense was stifling. The Zags had very few answers less than 48 hours after their dramatic buzzer-beating national semifinal win over UCLA.
The result was never in doubt. Baylor scored the game’s first nine points and led by double figures almost the entire evening to win its first national championship in school history, 86-70, at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Gonzaga, hoping to make history with a perfect season, came up well short. Bobby Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers remained the last undefeated team in the sport’s history.
Baylor, in the title game for the first time in 73 years, won its first crown after leading wire to wire. It was the better team on the perimeter and in the paint. It was the far better defensive team. And now it is the national champion, completing a steady rise that began when coach Scott Drew took over a program that was only relevant because of scandal.
His three guards were a menace. Mitchell, the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, created havoc at both ends of the floor with his quick hands and shifty feet, notching 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. Butler, by far the best Associated Press All-American on the floor — Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert was the other — scored a team-high 22 points and added seven assists. Teague chipped in 19. It was a bloodbath on the glass, 38-22, in favor of Baylor. Mark Vital had nearly double the amount of offensive rebounds (eight) than Gonzaga had as a team (five).
After starting 18-0, a three-week COVID-19 pause led to a poor regular-season finish for Baylor, two losses in six games. But it found its defense in this tournament, winning every game by at least nine points, holding Gonzaga to 5 of 17 shooting from deep and forcing 13 turnovers.
Considering how one-sided the first half felt, how well Baylor started and how shaky Gonzaga performed on the defensive end, a 10-point halftime deficit felt fortunate.
The Bears held multiple 19-point leads — the largest deficit Gonzaga has faced this season — after running out to a 9-0 edge. They hit their first five 3-pointers and owned the glass, grabbing nine offensive rebounds. They burned Gonzaga almost every time it turned the ball over, turning those eight miscues into 13 points.
The game’s opening possession foretold the first 20 minutes. Vital got two offensive rebounds and Mitchell sank an open jump shot. Baylor started like it was shot out of a cannon, getting to all the 50/50 balls, whizzing past Gonzaga defenders and creating deflections and turnovers.
Butler and Teague combined for 24 first-half points on 10 of 16 shooting, getting anything they wanted against the Zags, who seemed a step slow following Saturday night’s overtime thriller. Jalen Suggs picked up two fouls in the opening 3:04, and was limited to seven first-half points, creating ample problems.
Gonzaga did finish the half well, going on a 9-2 burst over the final 2:16, to get within 47-37 on Anton Watson’s layup in the final seconds.
Gonzaga came out in a zone to start the second half, to poor results. Butler sank a pair of deep 3-pointers, forcing Few’s team out of it. Suggs was aggressive coming out of the locker room. Forcing his way into the paint, he scored on three straight possessions around the rim, and when Andrew Nembhard scored in the lane, the Zags were down just nine.
Their momentum, however, stalled. Kispert was blocked on a drive, leading to an Adam Flager 3-pointer, and the lead was back to 16 with 12:52 left. Soon, it ballooned to 20.
The rout was on. Gonzaga didn’t have another miracle in them. A Baylor celebration was inevitable.
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