With little over two minutes gone from the clock, the result was already clear: Baylor was well on its way to securing its first men’s college basketball championship in program history. While much was made about the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs, the Baylor Bears made light work of the tournament favorite, easily crushing the team by a score of 86-70.
It was a night dominated by the underdog, as the Bears offense and defense proved unstoppable against a historical ‘Zags team. Coming into the game undefeated, the ‘Zags looked to make NCAA history by becoming only the second team to remain perfect since the ‘76 Indiana Hoosiers. Instead, Gonzaga ran into a wall, as the team looked no where close to the one that so easily cruised by opponents earlier on in the tournament. While the ‘Zags were battle-tested days before by a ‘silently-deadly’ UCLA team, they ultimately could not handle this Baylor team at its best.
And the Baylor Bears were certainly at their best. In fact, the Bears seemed like the perfect team that was promised, as they shot 43% from three and 44% from the field. Gone were the likes of Gonzaga stars Drew Timme and Corey Kispert, who seemed helpless againstBaylors’ incredible defense. Even Jalen Suggs, a top prospect in this year’s NBA draft, seemed “shook” by the harsh reality that this Baylor team was just better than that of his Bulldogs.
It wasn’t always this easy for the Baylor Bears this season though, as the team battled injury, COVID-19, and the media’s intense spotlight on the basketball program’s dark past. Stemming from the Showtime documentary Disgraced, much of Baylor’s success this season has been tied to past stories of corruption and murder that plagued the program in 2003. Current head coach Scott Drew took over in 2003, shortly after the resignation of previous head coach Dave Bliss, only weeks before the season started. Bliss seemingly infected the program worse than the coronavirus, as his lies, corruption, and deceit led the program to a seven-year NCAA probation period starting in 2003.
Bliss’s actions as head coach of the Baylor Bears put this men’s basketball program one ‘strike’ away from the NCAA’s “death penalty.” Bliss was the very opposite of a leader, as he lied and deceived both his players and the university in an attempt to cover up numerous NCAA violations. Not only that, but after the murder of Baylor player Patrick Dennehy by his teammate Carlton Dotson, Bliss told his Baylor players to lie and falsely say that Dennehy paid his college tuition by way of drug-dealing. In reality, Bliss illegally paid the tuition off himself. After this and a plethora of other recruiting violations came to light, Bliss resigned and the program was left to build back the pieces with current head coach Scott Drew at the helm.
With all top players transferring from the program and with severe self-imposed recruiting and scholarship restrictions, Scott Drew took over a program in absolute shambles. Little over three years later however, Drew led the Bears to just their fifth March Madness tournament appearance ever. After that season, Baylor showed their head coach a sign of good faith similar to the one he committed to the university when he took over the head coaching job in the first place, by awarding Drew a 10 year contract extension.
Nearly 12 years later, it has seemed as though Baylor’s investment in Drew has paid off in the best of ways as the championship trophy sits in Waco tonight. Despite a three-week COVID-induced hiatus earlier on in the season, the Baylor Bears charged through adversity yet again, and made it to the proverbial “otherside.” But what else could anyone expect? Unlike Gonzaga, this Baylor Bears team wasn’t supposed to be here, yet they are, and they will be for years and years to come.