Nobody’s Perfect! Baylor pulls off 86-70 upset over previously unbeaten Gonzaga in NCAA title game

Baylor knew it would need to play to near-perfection to end Gonzaga’s flawless season.

The Bears just about did.

Jared Butler and their dynamic backcourt hit their first five 3-pointers and never cooled off. Undersized big man Mark Vital delivered as many headaches as bruises. Their bench was superb, their rebounding exceptional, their game plan impeccable and the coaching of Scott Drew spot-on in the crowning moment of his long building job in Waco, Texas.

The result was a stunning 86-70 rout of the overall No. 1 seed for the first men’s basketball title in school history.

‘Our guys have been motivated all year,’ Bears coach Scott Drew said afterwards. ‘They came out and they fed off of each other.’  

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 on the year. Suggs is expected to forgo his sophomore season and declare for the NBA Draft. 

Indiana is still the last undefeated national champion, back in 1976.

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.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew gets a hug from guard Mark Vital following Monday's upset of previously unbeaten Gonzaga

Baylor head coach Scott Drew gets a hug from guard Mark Vital following Monday's upset of previously unbeaten Gonzaga

Baylor head coach Scott Drew gets a hug from guard Mark Vital following Monday’s upset of previously unbeaten Gonzaga

Baylor students celebrate their NCAA National Championship win over Gonzaga while viewing the college men's basketball game on a large monitor at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas

Baylor students celebrate their NCAA National Championship win over Gonzaga while viewing the college men's basketball game on a large monitor at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas

Baylor students celebrate their NCAA National Championship win over Gonzaga while viewing the college men’s basketball game on a large monitor at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas 

Baylor students celebrate their NCAA National Championship win over Gonzaga while viewing the college men's basketball game on a large monitor at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas

Baylor students celebrate their NCAA National Championship win over Gonzaga while viewing the college men's basketball game on a large monitor at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas

Baylor students celebrate their NCAA National Championship win over Gonzaga while viewing the college men’s basketball game on a large monitor at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas

Baylor's perfect game upended Gonzaga's perfect season and the 86-70 decision extended the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers' streak as Division I's last unbeaten men's champion for at least another year. It's the longest streak since the tourney began in 1939

Baylor's perfect game upended Gonzaga's perfect season and the 86-70 decision extended the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers' streak as Division I's last unbeaten men's champion for at least another year. It's the longest streak since the tourney began in 1939

Baylor’s perfect game upended Gonzaga’s perfect season and the 86-70 decision extended the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers’ streak as Division I’s last unbeaten men’s champion for at least another year. It’s the longest streak since the tourney began in 1939

Pounding the offensive glass and scrapping for – and winning – the lion’s share of the 50-50 balls, Baylor never let this one come down to a Jalen Suggs miracle. The Gonzaga freshman’s buzzer-beater from near the half-court logo got the Zags to the final in a game that stood as their first true test of the season.

They passed against UCLA. Against Baylor? Not even close.

After running to a 19-point lead early, the Bears never let Gonzaga get any closer than nine. Butler made four 3-pointers and added seven assists, and was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. 

‘They came out, they fed off each other, we got off to a great start and defensively, we’re pretty good,’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

Sure are.

Guard Davion Mitchell – nicknamed ‘Off Night’ because so many opponents encounter one when they go against him – finished with 15 points and did his best on Suggs. The freshman finished with 22 points – most of them after the Zags were well into desperation mode – and likely will be heading to the NBA lottery next.

Gonzaga’s first loss in 32 games this season – 36 dating to 2019-20 – leaves Indiana’s 1975-76 team as the last to go undefeated. If Bob May, Quinn Buckner and the rest of coach Bob Knight’s team were keeping champagne cold to celebrate – a la the perfect ´72 Miami Dolphins – they could´ve uncorked it by halftime.

Or sooner.

Baylor was up 9-0 after 2 1/2 minutes and the Bulldogs faced only their fourth double-digit deficit of the season at 11-1. They faced their biggest deficit of the season – 15 points – with 7:10 gone. By then, Suggs had two fouls and was watching from the bench.

He tried hard to breathe some fire into his teammates, or the Zags fans – who made about as much noise as the cardboard cutouts that were scattered through Lucas Oil Stadium to make it seem full.

‘Let’s …. go!’ Suggs screamed after he got fouled on a layup early in the second half. He missed the free throw.

But more than anything in the title game, it was Suggs´ memorable basket two nights earlier that laid the groundwork for this one. His bank shot at the buzzer capped one of the most riveting college basketball games ever. Back on the floor about 46 hours after that emotional roller coaster, it was clear the Zags were gassed.

The sequence that best illustrated the energy gap came about six minutes into the contest when Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua slapped the ball out of Drew Timme’s hands and the Bears worked the ball ahead to Mitchell. He missed a layup, but Tchamwa Tchatchoua got the offensive rebound and fed Adam Flagler for a 3.

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 percent 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 it was Baylor, not Suggs, jumping on top of the scorer’s table and cheering for the fans. And those were the Bears cutting down the nets.

This marked the culmination of an 18-year rebuild, the likes of which no program has ever seen.

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.  

Jalen Suggs #1 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs goes to the basket against MaCio Teague #31 of the Baylor Bears

Jalen Suggs #1 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs goes to the basket against MaCio Teague #31 of the Baylor Bears

Jalen Suggs #1 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs goes to the basket against MaCio Teague #31 of the Baylor Bears

Twenty teams have entered the NCAA Tournament unbeaten.

Seven won championships. On Monday night, after spending 5 1/2 months and 31 games as America’s top team, Gonzaga headed home just the like other 13 – without the trophy.

Baylor’s perfect game upended Gonzaga’s perfect season and the 86-70 decision extended the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers’ streak as Division I’s last unbeaten men’s champion for at least another year. It’s the longest streak since the tourney began in 1939.

Perfection denied is a far more common theme in tourney play, though.

Six teams lost in the national semifinals, including two in Indianpaolis (UNLV in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015). Gonzaga becomes the third team to suffer its only loss of the season in the title game and the first since Larry Bird with Indiana State in 1979. The other was Ohio State in 1961 and Bob Knight played on that team, too, long before leading the Hoosiers to their crowing achievement 15 years later.

Gonzaga came into the game as the most efficient offensive team in the nation, taking on all comers along the way and winning their first four tourney games by double digits. They even survived Saturday’s back-and-forth contest against UCLA with an incredible heave by Jalen Suggs in overtime.

Then, in the matchup college basketball fans had eagerly awaited since the first matchup in December was canceled because of a COVID-19 test, the Zags didn’t look like themselves.

They struggled to score early, played catch-up all night and turned the ball over against Baylor’s stifling, in-your-face defense. And amid the chaos, they saw their dream of bringing home the school’s first national championship evaporate. 

Baylor Bears forward Flo Thamba (0) and Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Andrew Nembhard (3) go for a rebound during the first half

Baylor Bears forward Flo Thamba (0) and Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Andrew Nembhard (3) go for a rebound during the first half

Baylor Bears forward Flo Thamba (0) and Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Andrew Nembhard (3) go for a rebound during the first half

Longtime friends Scott Drew (right), head coach at Baylor, and Gonzaga's Mark Few (left) greet each other on Monday

Longtime friends Scott Drew (right), head coach at Baylor, and Gonzaga's Mark Few (left) greet each other on Monday

Longtime friends Scott Drew (right), head coach at Baylor, and Gonzaga’s Mark Few (left) greet each other on Monday 

Baylor Bears fans cheer before the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game during the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament

Baylor Bears fans cheer before the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game during the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament

Baylor Bears fans cheer before the game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the national championship game during the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament

Baylor Bears forward Flo Thamba grabs a rebound against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert (24) during the first half

Baylor Bears forward Flo Thamba grabs a rebound against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert (24) during the first half

Baylor Bears forward Flo Thamba grabs a rebound against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert (24) during the first half

Fans are seen prior to the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament between the Baylor Bears and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium

Fans are seen prior to the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament between the Baylor Bears and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium

Fans are seen prior to the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament between the Baylor Bears and the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium

Jalen Suggs #1 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs takes the floor prior to the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Baylor Bears

Jalen Suggs #1 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs takes the floor prior to the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Baylor Bears

Jalen Suggs #1 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs takes the floor prior to the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Baylor Bears

Baylor fans take a photo in a sports bar before Baylor plays Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship basketball game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

Baylor fans take a photo in a sports bar before Baylor plays Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship basketball game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

Baylor fans take a photo in a sports bar before Baylor plays Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship basketball game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis

Davion Mitchell #45 of the Baylor Bears sits during warm ups before the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night in Indianapolis

Davion Mitchell #45 of the Baylor Bears sits during warm ups before the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night in Indianapolis

Davion Mitchell #45 of the Baylor Bears sits during warm ups before the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night in Indianapolis 

Gonzaga fans watch team introductions during the NCAA Final Four college championship basketball game between Gonzaga and Baylor during a watch party at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington on Monday night

Gonzaga fans watch team introductions during the NCAA Final Four college championship basketball game between Gonzaga and Baylor during a watch party at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington on Monday night

Gonzaga fans watch team introductions during the NCAA Final Four college championship basketball game between Gonzaga and Baylor during a watch party at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington on Monday night 

Indiana coach Bobby Knight is mobbed by players as he leaves the court in after finishing a perfect season in 1976

Indiana coach Bobby Knight is mobbed by players as he leaves the court in after finishing a perfect season in 1976

Indiana coach Bobby Knight is mobbed by players as he leaves the court in after finishing a perfect season in 1976

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrate making the game winning shot against the UCLA Bruins in the Final Four

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrate making the game winning shot against the UCLA Bruins in the Final Four

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrate making the game winning shot against the UCLA Bruins in the Final Four

General exterior view of Lucas Oil Stadium before Baylor plays Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship basketball game in Indianapolis

General exterior view of Lucas Oil Stadium before Baylor plays Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship basketball game in Indianapolis

General exterior view of Lucas Oil Stadium before Baylor plays Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament championship basketball game in Indianapolis

Corey Kispert of the Gonzaga Bulldogs stretches prior to the start of the national title game against the Baylor Bears

Corey Kispert of the Gonzaga Bulldogs stretches prior to the start of the national title game against the Baylor Bears

Corey Kispert of the Gonzaga Bulldogs stretches prior to the start of the national title game against the Baylor Bears

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