The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, more commonly known as “March Madness,” consists of 68 of the best college teams playing to win the most prestigious tournament in collegiate sports. This year, due to COVID-19, the annual tournament was played in arenas across the state of Indiana.
Of the normally dominant Kentucky Wildcats and Duke Blue Devils, neither qualified for the tournament due to their subpar regular season records; their poor performance surprised many due to their highly-ranked freshman classes going into the season. Kentucky went 9-16 while Duke went 13-11. On the opposite end of the spectrum was the Gonzaga Bulldogs, as the most commonly held favorite coming into the tournament. They entered with a perfect 30-0 record, going the entire season without a loss.
The championship game was scheduled to be played in Lucas Oil Stadium, where the last two surviving teams would play against each other. In a tournament that included many quality teams and potential NBA prospects, most games came down to the final minutes that ended in the occasional upset win.
As the tournament came down to the “Final Four,” the remaining teams were the UCLA Bruins, Houston Cougars, Baylor Bears, and Gonzaga. With the matchups scheduled, bettors and media favored Gonzaga to win it all. Both Baylor and Gonzaga finished with the first seed in their respective conference, meaning they played against lower-ranked schools at the beginning of the tournament. Baylor came in as the favorites against Houston, and from the start of the game, they showed their talent. Led by 17 points from Jared Butler, a junior who elevated his NBA Draft stock with his performance this year, Baylor topped the Cougars 78-59.
The second semi-final game was between Gonzaga and UCLA. This was one of the most exciting games in the whole tournament. With eight seconds left to go in overtime, UCLA guard Johnny Juzang attacked the basket hard and tied the game at 90. However, with only three seconds left in overtime, Gonzaga quickly inbounded the ball to Jalen Suggs, catching the Bruins by surprise. Suggs sprinted past the defense and heaved a thirty-five foot shot hoping to get a miracle. Amazingly, the shot counted, giving Gonzaga their spot in the championship game.
When the smoke cleared, many in the media were beginning to question Gonzaga’s ability to keep up with Baylor’s skill set and physicality. Baylor’s recent performances saw them completely outmatching their opponents in both aspects.
In the first five minutes of the game, Baylor jumped out to a 16 to four lead. The Bears looked more physical, grabbing more rebounds and making more contested shots. At the end of the first half, Baylor led Gonzaga forty-seven to thirty-seven in what was thus far a hard-fought battle. Gonzaga scored a layup to cut the lead by eight after the half. Butler responded by scoring two straight three-pointers, pushing their lead up to fourteen points.
Gonzaga would eventually cut the lead, but Baylor found a way to squash any of the Bulldogs’ momentum. The main way they did this was their perimeter shooting and contributions from brothers MaCio and Butler Teague. Baylor truly led the game from start to finish and was able to end Gonzaga’s comeback hopes when around the four-minute mark, they scored a layup, giving them an insurmountable nineteen-point lead.
With a final score of 86-70, the Bears had won their first men’s NCAA basketball championship and ended Gonzaga’s hopes of a perfect season. With that, one of the craziest seasons in NCAA history came to a close.