Bears stun Bulldogs, bag NCAA crown

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    BEST OF ‘EM: Baylor players whoop it up after winning the 2021 NCAA Tournament. REUTERS PHOTO

    BAYLOR star Jared Butler claims he wasn’t aware of the score as the Bears opened Monday night’s (Tuesday in Manila) NCAA Tournament championship game in ferocious fashion.

    However, he didn’t really need to take a glance to know that things were going exceedingly well against undefeated Gonzaga.

    “I knew at some point we were up big because we were scoring and they weren’t scoring,” Butler said. “It was electrifying. Everybody stepped up. We were clicking on all cylinders.”

    Butler made four 3-pointers and recorded 22 points and seven assists as Baylor turned Gonzaga’s perfect-season dream into a nightmare with a wire-to-wire 86-70 victory at Indianapolis.

    MaCio Teague added 19 points as the Bears (28-2) won their first national title by prevailing in the battle of No. 1 seeds. Davion Mitchell contributed 15 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Adam Flagler scored 13 points for Baylor.

    Jalen Suggs scored 22 points for Gonzaga (31-1), which had its 35-game winning streak halted. The Bulldogs were attempting to become the first undefeated national champions since Indiana in 1975-76.

    Drew Timme and Corey Kispert added 12 points apiece for Gonzaga, which trailed by as many as 20 points while losing for the first time since a 91-78 defeat at BYU on Feb. 22, 2020.

    “You really do forget what it is like to lose,” Kispert said. “But when you go up against a team like that who is just firing on all cylinders for 40 minutes, it’s really hard to compete with.

    “So, you kind of forget and it doesn’t feel good. I’m going to remember this for a long time.”

    Butler, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, and his teammates have led Baylor to unprecedented heights.

    Bears coach Scott Drew pledged the program could win a national title when he was hired 18 years ago. This despite Drew arriving in the midst of an ugly scandal in which player Patrick Dennehy was shot to death by teammate Carlton Dotson and then-coach Dave Bliss attempted to cover it up before it was exposed, and he was fired.

    Major violations were uncovered, and the Bears were hit with heavy sanctions and went 21-53 in Drew’s first three years before things started to turn around. But he sees the path to Monday’s title as something that began when he had to fill out rosters with multiple walk-ons.

    “Going into every game, being 30- or 40-point underdogs and half your team is walk-ons, you know as a coach if we can just keep it within 20 in the first half, or 10. . .,” Drew said of the early years of his tenure.

    Meanwhile, the Bulldogs lost in the title game for the second time in the past four NCAA Tournaments.

    Gonzaga had trimmed its deficit to nine with 14:29 to play before the Bears reasserted control with a 9-2 push.