INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone’s entitled to an off night. But the beatdown Baylor put on undefeated Gonzaga with the national title on the line — nobody saw that coming.
The fresh-as-can-be Bears obliterated wobbly-legged Gonzaga’s march to perfection Monday night in an 86-70 runaway that brought the once-downtrodden Baylor program’s first national title home to Waco.
Jared Butler scored 22 points and MaCio Teague had 19 for the Bears (28-2), who were ranked second or third in the AP poll all year long — but never first, all because of one team.
Pounding the offensive glass and scrapping for 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.
But after running to a 19-point lead early, Gonzaga never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
Baylor guard Davion Mitchell finished with 15 points and turned in his best performance on the defensive end against Suggs, a freshman who 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 36 games dating to 2019-20 leaves Indiana’s 1975-76 team as the last to go undefeated.
Baylor was up 9-0 after 2½ 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.
Back on the floor about 46 hours after their emotional semifinal win, it was clear the Zags were gassed.
The sequence that best illustrated the energy gap came about 6 minutes into the contest when Baylor’s 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.
This game didn’t live up to the hype, and it was out of hand early.