Baylor, Gonzaga win Final Four, will face off in NCAA championship 2021

NCAA championship
The Baylor bench celebrates after Baylor Bears guard Mark Paterson (35) makes a basket against Houston during the semifinals of the Final Four of the 2021 NCAA Tournament on Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. Mandatory Credit: Robert Scheer/IndyStar via USA TODAY Sports

The Baylor Bears and Gonzaga Bulldogs advanced past the Final Four on Saturday night and will meet in the 2021 NCAA Championship game on Monday.

Baylor (27-2) knocked off second-ranked Houston (28-4), blowing past the Cougars 78-59. The Bears dominated in their first Final Four appearance since 1950, outscoring Houston 45-20 in the first half. As the final seconds ticked away, Baylor celebrated its first men’s national championship game appearance since the 1948 NCAA Tournament.

Junior guard Jared Butler powered the team to victory, complemented by Baylor’s outstanding defense. Butler, the team’s leading scorer this season, finished with a team-high 17 points, tacking on four assists and two steals. The Bears’ stellar defense came through once again, holding the Cougars to 38.2% shooting from the field and 31.6% from beyond the arc.

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Gonzaga (31-0) entered March Madness as the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship. On Saturday, the undefeated Bulldogs proved why they are the best team in the country and have a shot at college basketball immortality. They also exercise some old demons against the Bruins, getting their revenge after UCLA’s stunning comeback in 2006.

Entering as a 14.5-point favorite over UCLA (22-10), Gonzaga encountered its greatest challenge of the season. It was a back-and-forth half, featuring 11 lead changes in six ties. Then a last-second three by Corey Kispert gave the Zags a 45-44 lead at halftime.

The thrilling action continued into the second half. Johnny Juzang kept his magnificent March Madness run rolling, taking over on the final minutes. But a clutch block and pass by Jalen Suggs stole the show.

Once again, UCLA found itself in overtime after a last-second charge call. After an 81-81 tie, Gonzaga stormed out to a 87-83 lead late in OT, but the Bruins kept answering.

Juzang came through with a game-tying, put-back shot with three seconds left. Then, in a moment that college basketball fans will never forget, Suggs fired the buzzer-beating three to send the Zags to the championship.

Gonzaga is headed back to the NCAA Championship game for the first time since 2017. The Bulldogs finished as runner-up to the North Carolina Tar Heels that year, losing 71-65.

If Gonzaga wins Monday, it will become the first undefeated national champion in men’s basketball since Bob Knight’s 1975-’75 Indiana Hoosiers (32-0) program accomplished the feat. Notably, the NCAA tournament field only included 25 teams at the time. The Bulldogs would be the first to do it since the size of the tournament expanded and only the eighth to do it in the history of NCAA men’s basketball.

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Baylor and Gonzaga were originally scheduled to face each other earlier this season, when they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the country respectively. However, the Dec. 5 matchup was canceled due to multiple Bulldogs’ players testing positive for COVID-19.

The NCAA Championship game will be played on Monday, April 5 at 9 PM EST inside Lucas Oil Stadium.