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Baylor dominates Gonzaga for first men’s basketball title
AP

Baylor dominates Gonzaga for first men’s basketball title

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Flo Thamba #0 of the Baylor Bears celebrates after winning the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Flo Thamba #0 of the Baylor Bears celebrates after winning the National Championship game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament against the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Baylor Bears defeated the Gonzaga Bulldogs 86-70. (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images/TNS)

The Baylor Bears men’s basketball team can finally say the sweetest words in the sport: National champions.

Baylor turned in a dominant performance against favorite Gonzaga, cruising to an 86-70 victory on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Bears (28-2) left no doubt who the best team in the country was this season in winning the program’s first national championship.

For the Big 12, Baylor becomes the league’s first national champion in men’s basketball since Kansas won the 2008 title. Just a short 13-year championship drought for the “best basketball conference in the country.”

The Bears also became the first Texas team to win the title since Texas Western in 1966.

Gonzaga was a 4 1/2-point favorite going into the game, looking to cap the first perfect season since Indiana did it in 1975-76. But the Bulldogs (31-1) found themselves in an early hole.

They trailed by as many as 19 in the first half and, if they pulled off a comeback, it would have been the biggest in the championship game.

But Baylor didn’t let it happen. In fact, the lead was never truly threatened from the midway point of the first half on.

Baylor took a 33-14 lead on a layup by MaCio Teague with just over seven minutes left in the opening half. Gonzaga closed the gap to 47-37 by halftime, closing with a 9-2 run.

Still, the first half belonged to the Bears. They shot 50% from the field, were even better from 3-point range (7 of 12) and won the rebounding battle 16-10.

The second half belonged to the Bears, too. They never let off the gas. The Bears finished the night 10 of 23 from 3-point range compared to Gonzaga’s 5 of 17 night. They also dominated on the boards, winning the rebounding battle 38-22.

Baylor’s Jared Butler finished with a game-high tying 22 points. Teague added 19 points, and Davion Mitchell had 15. Mark Vital had a game-high 11 rebounds — or half of what Gonzaga’s entire team had during the game.

The Bulldogs were led by Jalen Suggs’ 22 points.

For Baylor, it was a magical season despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The program won its first regular-season championship since 1950, and then made a remarkable run through March Madness.

The Bears won all but one game in the Big Dance by double digits (with the other victory coming by nine points). They rolled 16-seed Hartford (79-55) followed by wins over 9-seed Wisconsin (76-63), 5-seed Villanova (62-51) and 3-seed Arkansas (81-72) to reach the Final Four.

Baylor then trounced Houston in the semifinal matchup, 78-59, on Saturday and had a similar showing in the title game on Monday.

As stated, it’s the program’s first championship. The Bears’ only other trip to the title game was a 58-42 loss to Kentucky in 1948.

Monday also marked the first game Baylor has defeated a No. 1-ranked team as well as Gonzaga. The Bears were 0-8 against No. 1-ranked teams going into it, and 0-5 against Gonzaga in the all-time series.

These are the 2021 Associated Press men's basketball All-America teams

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