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Baylor Defeats Gonzaga To Win Its 1st Men's NCAA Basketball Championship

Baylor players (from left) Adam Flagler, Jackson Moffatt and Matthew Mayer celebrate after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Baylor players (from left) Adam Flagler, Jackson Moffatt and Matthew Mayer celebrate after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Updated April 6, 2021 at 10:58 AM ET

The Baylor Bears are celebrating their first championship season after beating the previously undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs 86-70 on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Baylor dominated the high-stakes game, which turned out to be relatively low drama.

"The hoped-for titanic clash didn't deliver the 'titanic' part," NPR's Tom Goldman told Morning Edition.

That's because the Bears were overpowering, he explained. They exploded to a 9-0 lead and didn't falter, becoming the first men's team to lead start-to-finish in a title game since 2014.

They relied heavily on their guards' smothering defense, relentless assists and three-point shots to bring home the win. Jared Butler scored 22 points with 7 assists, Davion Mitchell had 15 points and 5 assists, while MaCio Teague had 19 points.

"Our guys, when the best is needed, the best is provided," Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the game. "The better the opponent, the better they play."

Gonzaga only had to win one more game to end with a perfect season. Instead, it finishes with a 31-1 record. It would have been the first team to finish the season undefeated since 1976. Not since 1979 has an undefeated team lost the title game.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said after the game, "It's a really, really tough one to end a storybook season on, but listen, Baylor just beat us. They beat us in every facet of the game and deserve all the credit."

Baylor, which last appeared in a national championship game 73 years ago, held Gonzaga to a season-low point total.

"Our guys, when the best is needed, the best is provided," Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the game. "The better the opponent, the better they play."

At home in Waco, Texas, Baylor fans celebrated the team's historic win on the football field in McLane Stadium.

The win is sweet revenge for Baylor. Two years ago, Gonzaga eliminated the Bears in the second round. There was no championship game last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic shaped the entire college basketball season — both teams had to pause their programs because of COVID-19 cases and navigate constant testing, isolation and scheduling changes along the way.

Speaking to reporters, Drew praised the sacrifices his players made and noted that the games that were canceled made them appreciate the ones they were able to play even more. He described his main takeaway as being thankful for the opportunity to have the tournament at all and the chance to deepen his relationship with players.

"Our team has been special, [the] last two years, winningest team in the Power Five, we've been really, really good," he said. "And they're even better people. Four weeks in the bubble, trust me I'd tell you if they're not."

The win is also personal for Drew, who has been leading the team for 18 seasons. He took over the program in 2003, in the wake of a scandal involving the murder of one player by another. At the time, he said his goal was to bring the team to the national championship, not just to play but to win.

He noted on Monday that a Texas team hadn't won a national men's college basketball championship since 1966 and called the victory "long overdue for the state."

Players also shared that sentiment. Butler, a Bears guard who was named the tournament's most outstanding player, said earlier in the week that he hoped to help put the program on the map.

"That was one of my goals and I know some of my teammates' goals is just to leave a legacy at Baylor, create Baylor as a blue blood," he said. "To do that, you have to win a national championship."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.