By Sravan Gannavarapu, Shwetha Surendran and James Paleologopoulos
Boston University News Service
BOSTON — Gonzaga fell short of becoming an undefeated national champion Monday night, as the Baylor Bears made history of their own, beating the Bulldogs 86-70 to win their first-ever men’s basketball national championship.
Gonzaga’s fate was sealed just 30 seconds in. The Bears took the lead and never gave it back, leading by as many as 19 points during the first half.
“Hats off to Baylor, they dominated us on both ends of the ball pretty much all night,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said, in a post-game interview.
Junior guard Jared Butler led Baylor with 22 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds, shooting an impressive 44.4% when it came to 3-pointers. Baylor was dominant beyond the arc in general, shooting 43.5%, compared to Gonzaga’s 29.4%.
Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga’s star point guard whose miraculous OT shot against UCLA helped get the Bulldogs’ into the finals, led his team with 22 points. But it was not enough. His night was also made worse by two fouls he picked up just three minutes into the game.
Corey Kispert, the Bulldogs’ All-American small forward and WCC conference player of the year, managed just 12 points, as did power forward Drew Timme who found himself held up by the Baylor defense.
Monday night was Gonzaga’s first and worst loss of the season, ensuring that the 1975-76 Hoosiers remain the last championship team to go unbeaten in a season.
Following 31 wins on the year, the Bulldogs joined the 1961 Ohio State Buckeyes and 1979 Indiana State Sycamores as a team to reach the NCAA tournament’s final undefeated and lose.
History belonged to Baylor instead, as the team from Texas won their program’s first championship after going 28-2, making their first appearance in a national title game in nearly a century.
The mens team’s last appearance in a national championship was in 1948 and, since then, the program had to endure a long winless drought marked by exits in the regional semifinals in 2014 and 2017 and a 82-70 loss to Kentucky in the regional final in 2012.
They lifted their first championship trophy just two years after the women’s basketball team earned their own in 2019. The program will be playing catch-up, too, as the Lady Bears have three championships under their belt, including a historic undefeated run in 2012, going 40-0.
Baylor basketball alumni such as Ekpe Udoh and Taurean Prince were ecstatic following their alma mater’s victory. The Bears’ win also earned high praise from the likes of Magic Johnson, who tweeted “Man… @BaylorMBB shot lights out! They were too quick, too fast, and too explosive on offense and their defense suffocated Gonzaga!”
As for the players themselves, Jared Butler was still riding high Tuesday morning, wearing a piece of the net on his hat during an interview on NBC’s TODAY show.
“I’m still riding the wave, I’m still wearing the shirt I was wearing for the game, I still have the hat on,” Butler said on Tuesday morning. “It is just amazing. [It is] just a great group of guys. You set out goals and you accomplish them. It is a great feeling.”