By Matthew Soderberg | Editor-in-Chief, Video by Nate Smith | Sports Director
The Bears never trailed behind the Bulldogs in their first national title game since 1948.
Sixteen years to day after Baylor’s women’s team won its first national title, the men’s squad has joined the ranks of Baylor history. After an 86-70 demolishing of formerly undefeated Gonzaga, the Bears have accomplished just the second men’s national title in any sport at Baylor, the last going to the men’s tennis team in 2004.
“First and foremost, I want to thank God for blessing us with this opportunity tonight. I know the guys have worked really hard. And I’m so happy they get a chance to celebrate now,” 18th-year head coach Scot Drew said. “I thought we were on the mission to make the most of it. If we had lost, we wanted to make sure to have no regrets — we wanted to leave it all on the table.”
The Green and Gold’s Cerberus of guards did not disappoint once again on the biggest stage in collegiate basketball. Junior Jared Butler, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, scored 22 points on 14 attempts, including 4-9 from three, with seven assists in 32 minutes. Senior MaCio Teague shot 8-15 for 19 points in 32 minutes and junior Davion Mitchell played 36 minutes with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few praised Butler for spearheading the Bears’ offense.
“He’s an excellent player,” Few said. “What makes him tough is he can score at all three levels. I thought we could have done a better job of forcing him to taking those twos… But he’s had a heck of a year, a heck of a career. He’s a complete player. He can guard. He can score mid-range. He can score at the basket. And he’s a deadly three-point shooter.”
Butler said the praise should be spread around the entire backcourt.
“We think we’re the best guards in the nation,” Butler said. “We went up against some highly touted guards. They’re explosive. They have Drew Timme. And we want to be the best guards in the nation, and I think we proved that tonight. We made a statement.”
There was no hesitation by Baylor from the jump. After winning the tip, the Bears ran off the first nine points and built into a 19-point lead midway through the first half. After a small Gonzaga run to close it to 12, Baylor skirted off to raise it back to 17 at the 2:16 mark. The Bulldogs were determined, however, and closed the lead to ten with a fast break layup two seconds before the buzzer. Drew attributed his team’s defense for the strong start.
“We’re really good defensively,” Drew said. “I thought we made things tough tonight. Gonzaga missed some shots that they probably normally make. But credit our guys for making everything difficult.”
Baylor extended the Gonzaga deficit after the trip to the locker rooms, thanks to back-to-back threes by Butler. The Bulldogs closed the lead to nine five minutes into the second half, but it was as close as they would get to taking home the trophy. Butler said their play coming out of the gate was the difference.
“We looked at it like 0-0, and we knew they were going to fight,” Butler said. “Very talented team. They’re never out of the game. That first five minutes was pretty crucial.”
Baylor took the reins and took them emphatically down the stretch, extending its dominant lead to 20 points just four minutes after Gonzaga got the closest it’d been since being down 13-4. The Bears forced 14 turnovers on the night while allowing just 29% shooting from beyond the arc. Gonzaga senior Corey Kispert said Baylor’s aggression got them out of rhythm from the tip.
“That’s how you have to play the game. Especially in this kind of a place, in this environment — the more aggressive team gets more calls,” Kispert said. “The more aggressive team makes more threes. The more aggressive team gets more rebounds. And they punched us in the mouth right at the get-go. And it took a long, long time for us to recover and start playing them even again. But then it was too late.”
The Bulldogs made one last push with seven minutes to play, dropping the deficit to just 13, but a 7-1 Baylor run quelled any dreams from the Pacific Northwest. The Bears are the last team dancing this year. Drew could only applaud his group after the game.
“Those guys didn’t want to lose for each other. They wanted to play for each other,” Drew said. “And they’re winners. They’re experienced. They’re tough. They love one another.”
Whereas Gonzaga came in with far superior size, Baylor’s heart shone through in the paint. Senior Mark Vital pulled down 11 boards, including eight on the offensive end. Junior Flo Thamba grabbed six with half coming below his own basket. Thanks to the dominance in rebounding (a 38-22 advantage), the Bears outscored the No. 1 overall seed 16-5 in second chance points.
Baylor also scored 14 more points from the bench, four more points on the fast break, committed four more steals, two more blocks and dished out two more assists.
Baylor finished off its season at 28-2 and is set up well for a run next year according to the sports books. At +1200, the Bears are projected as the second best squad for 2022 behind only the same Gonzaga team.