Baylor has been one of the best teams in college basketball all season, but they turned up the intensity during the NCAA Tournament. After a strong regional run and a dominant performance in the Final Four, the Bears went on to upset the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Gonzaga went undefeated all season, but they could not put it all together when it mattered most. They were almost upset in the Final Four, and they could not gather themselves against Baylor.
While this game was against the two best teams in college basketball, the game was nowhere near as exciting as many expected. After the wild Final Four game between Gonzaga and UCLA, this game simmered and sputtered until the final whistle.
Regardless, the Baylor Bears are your national champions. So, how did this happen? What did Baylor do to upset Gonzaga despite the 4.5-point spread?
Baylor’s Early Start
Gonzaga has been dominant all season, and they know how to play with a lead. Baylor knew that they would have to get off to a strong start if they wanted to win this game. Thankfully for them, they began the game as dominant as one could hope for.
Baylor began this game on a 9-0 run, but their dominance continued for most of the first half. They had a clear plan, and they executed it to perfection. Even when Gonzaga got going offensively, Baylor kept the foot on the gas.
Both teams knew that it would take a solid 40 minutes to win this game, but Baylor delivered from the tip to the final whistle. That type of focus and drive has been evident all season for the Bears, but they put it all together against their toughest opponent.
No one can blame Gonzaga for the slow start. It was solely on Baylor’s ability to start strong on both sides of the court. Gonzaga sputtered, but that was all it took to get Baylor out to a massive early lead. Still, Gonzaga pulled it within 10 at halftime, so what else did it take?
The Battle on the Perimeter
All season, Baylor has been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. That is usually something that comes and goes, but they needed to rely on perimeter shooting in the championship game.
They certainly got the most out of their perimeter game against Gonzaga. They went 10-23 from three while the Bulldogs only went 5-17. This 15-point swing was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome in the paint. They won by 16 points, so this was clearly a pivotal aspect of this game.
Gonzaga went to a zone for a while. This brought some success, but it was not a sustainable plan. The best thing about a zone defense is that it begs you to shoot the three. Against Baylor, that plan won’t work for long. It kept Gonzaga in the game with a new look, but Baylor adjusted quickly.
When Baylor is converting threes, they are incredibly hard to beat. Gonzaga knew that they had to find an answer for Baylor’s perimeter shooting. Unfortunately for them, nothing worked and the sports betting hopes of Gonzaga backers were crushed. It would be one thing if both teams were nailing threes, but the discrepancy was too much to overcome.
Rebounding Made a Difference
Fans expected this to be a battle between two styles of play. Baylor loves to extend the floor and lock down the perimeter, and Gonzaga wanted to win inside with Drew Timme. Not only did they hold Timme to 12 points, but they also dominated on the glass. Gonzaga had practically no second-chance opportunities, and that was thanks to the battle inside.
This battle was won on both sides of the floor. Baylor almost had more offensive boards than Gonzaga had defensive ones. The gap here helped Baylor extend the lead.
With a defense as stout as Baylor, you have to get offensive rebounds. The Bears do such a great job at forcing bad shots that you can’t rely on converting without second-chance points.
All of this helped the Baylor Bears shock sportsbooks and bettors alike. While we’ll have to see what the future holds, but Baylor seized this moment and took home the title.