By Teddy Brenner
The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers and coach Bobby Knight are safe for now.
They won the NCAA title in Philly with a 30-0 record.
And no one has been perfect since.
Not even Gonzaga
Baylor crushed the Zags in the most-anticipated national championship game in memory.
And it was over early.
The Bears sprinted out to a 9-0 lead on the way to an 86-70 victory over the Bulldogs to win the first men’s basketball national title in school history.
Much like it did against Houston on Saturday night, Baylor (28-2) punished Gonzaga (31-1) in the first half. The Bears immediately started deflecting passes and making steals on defense and crashing the offensive glass. If Baylor wasn’t making a shot in the opening minutes of the game, odds are it was getting the offensive rebound.
Just two of Baylor’s possessions within the first eight minutes of the game ended without points thanks to five offensive rebounds. By the time the game hit its second television timeout Baylor had a 23-8 lead and Gonzaga star guard Jalen Suggs had been on the bench for five minutes after picking up his second foul just three minutes into the game.
“[Baylor] dominated both ends of the ball pretty much all night,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few told CBS after the game.
Gonzaga made a run at the Bears to end the half but cut the deficit to only 10 at the break. A hot start to the second half never materialized either. Baylor started the final half with a three — after two offensive rebounds, of course — and never was seriously challenged the rest of the way.
Baylor held a double-digit lead over Gonzaga for over 20 minutes from after Gonzaga cut the lead to 13-4 in the first half and 58-49 in the second half.
After Gonzaga cut it to nine with 14:30 to go, Baylor asserted its dominance again. The Bears immediately outscored the Bulldogs 9-2 and capped off the run by a wide-open three from Adam Flagler.
Baylor entered the game as the best 3-point shooting team in the country at over 40%. And the Bears were unstoppable from behind the arc, even as Gonzaga even tried to switch to a zone defense to slow Baylor down.
Baylor finished the game 10-of-22 from three as Jared Butler had 20 points and MaCio Teague had 19. Flagler made his first three 3-pointers off the bench too.
Butler became the first player since Carmelo Anthony in 2003 to have 20 or more points and at least seven assists in a national title game. Mark Vital, meanwhile, finished with 11 rebounds. Eight of them came on the offensive end.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, simply couldn’t keep pace. That’s a sentence that didn’t have a high likelihood of getting typed before the game.
The Zags make over 60% of their two-point field goal attempts and shot well from inside the arc again. But it’s hard to counter twos with threes — especially when your opponent is gobbling up offensive rebounds. And Gonzaga dug itself a hole to start the game with five turnovers before Baylor committed its first of the game.
By the time Gonzaga resembled its normal self the game was out of reach. And it stayed out of reach. Baylor was adept at getting the mismatches it wanted while Gonzaga was on defense — Drew Timme found himself isolated outside the lane a lot — and its quick ball movement led to a lot of open threes.
What Baylor did on Monday night resembled an NBA team in a lot of ways. Both in the number of future pros on the court and with the way it overwhelmed Gonzaga.
Any chance of a Gonzaga comeback unofficially ended with 11:35 to go when Timme picked up his fourth foul of the game on a charge and Baylor was up 16.
Gonzaga was considered the best team in the country for much of the season because of its dominating early-season wins over teams like Kansas, Iowa and Virginia and its undefeated record. Gonzaga and Baylor were originally scheduled to play each other on Dec. 5 in Indianapolis but the game was called off hours before it was set to tip off because of COVID-19 cases at Gonzaga.
The Zags should be very good again in 2021-22, however. Gonzaga could return as many as three starters and has five-star point guard Hunter Sallis as part of its 2021 recruiting class.
Baylor hadn’t been to the Final Four since 1950 before 2021. And it’s easy to see how the program Scott Drew has rebuilt won’t go over 70 years between Final Four appearances again.
Baylor has won 20 or more games in 11 of Drew’s last 14 seasons with the team. And the Bears have been ranked in the top two of the AP top 25 in three of the last five seasons.
It’s a remarkable peak given the state of the basketball program before Drew took over. Former coach Dave Bliss resigned in 2003 amid an investigation into numerous allegations in the program following Carlton Dotson’s murder of teammate Patrick Dennehy. Bliss was accused of making illicit tuition payments for numerous players including Dennehy. And the disgraced coach even allegedly made up a story that painted Dennehy as a drug dealer to cover for his own actions.
Nearly two decades later, the Bears have officially ascended to program to beat status in the Big 12 alongside longtime dominator Kansas. Just look at the recruiting rankings. Baylor has the No. 11 class in 2021. That group of three players includes five-star recruit Kendall Brown. The Kansas native is the No. 16 player in the country according to Rivals.
Kansas, meanwhile, is five spots lower than Baylor in the rankings and doesn’t have a five-star recruit in its class.