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March Madness Finale: Championship Game

By Grant Mitchell | April 05
March Madness Finale: Championship Game
The tip-off for the National Championship game (photo via Jack Dempsey).

After seven grueling months, the nation's two most dominant teams finally got their chance to face off— for the title.

The heavyweight programs had been scheduled to do battle once earlier in the season, but had that game postponed due to COVID-19.

Gonzaga's bid for a perfect season came up one game short as the Baylor Bears secured their program's first men's basketball national championship, while the Bulldogs will have to continue to wait for theirs.

The Game

#1 Gonzaga 70, #1 Baylor 86

Baylor came out of the gates scorching hot, nailing their first five threes and sprinting ahead to a 16-4 lead. Davion Mitchell was the leader in aggression, scoring seven of the team's first 11 points and playing tremendous defense on Gonzaga's presumptive top-five draft pick, Jalen Suggs.

The Zags started the game lethargically after a short turnaround from their overtime thriller with #11 UCLA on Saturday night. They allowed Baylor to swarm their ball handlers and failed to initiate their highly effective offensive sets, giving the Bears all of the momentum.

Baylor also dominated the glass, despite having an undersized roster, giving them free looks at the hoop; this combined with tremendous defensive intelligence and execution overpowered the undefeated Bulldogs.

Drew Timme was an early victim of the Baylor guards, who sought out the Gonzaga big man on defensive switches and abused his lack of change of pace off the dribble.

Gonzaga threw out a 1-3-1 zone late in the first half as a desperation move, and it actually worked— the Bulldogs closed the half on an 8-0 run and, to everyone's amazement, brought the deficit down to 10 points at halftime.

Despite this late run, the second frame was more of the same, as the Bulldogs lack of execution from beyond the three-point line (5-17) starkly contrasted Baylor's performance (10-23).

Jalen Suggs eventually emerged from his shell after being forced to miss a portion of his usual first half minutes with foul trouble, although the brilliance Baylor's guards shooting the ball and finding open teammates could not be stopped.

Gonzaga not only was outplayed by their opponents, but they hurt themselves: they allowed 16 offensive rebounds (including eight to Mark Vital), missed six of their 21 free throws and turned the ball over 14 times (five more than Baylor).

The constant rotation of players kept Baylor's team energized and ready to attack, with each of the three usual stars in Davion Mitchell, MaCio Teague and Jared Butler taking their turn to dominate the affair.

Butler tied Jalen Suggs for a game-high 22 points and set the top mark with seven assists; Teague scored 19 on 8-15 shooting; and Mitchell contributed 15 points, six rebounds and five assists to the championship victory. The Bulldogs' leading scorer in Drew Timme was limited to 12 points and five rebounds.

Baylor's role players also stepped up and outscored Gonzaga's bench by 14, led by 13 from Adam Flagler (3-4 3PT).

Gonzaga was the first team to enter the championship with a flawless record since Indiana State in 1979, when Larry Bird's crew fell to Magic Johnson's Michigan State Spartans, ultimately suffering the same fate.

Both teams will experience fluctuation in their roster due to graduating seniors and NBA draft declarations, though both coaches have proven themselves to be elite minds in the sport— they will be back in the spotlight soon.

Baylor celebrating
Baylor celebrating their championship victory (photo via The New York Times).