INDIANAPOLIS – Years before coach Scott Drew led his team to his first national men’s basketball championship Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium by beating Gonzaga 86-70, he was touring his team’s relatively new practice facility. To unlock the doors, he put his hand on a fancy scanner.
Inside were large televisions above each player’s booth that also had video game systems on them. There was a huge big screen for movie sessions and cold tubs for post-game rest.
“Don’t say too much about it,” Drew said of the amenities. “I don’t want too many people to know.”
At the time, the thought of another team copying his team’s setup blueprint worried Drew. However, after Baylor’s win over Gonzaga in the national title game on Monday night, Drew could get every team in the country to look for ways to emulate his program.
It’s not just victory. It is the story of Baylor’s first national championship.
The Bears dominated – and never fell short – against an undefeated Gonzaga squad that aimed to end the first perfect season since 1976. They didn’t hit a buzzer beater or won over some questionable phone calls. They kicked Gonzaga’s butt and stole the buzz. Mark Few had no answers for Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Adam Flagler, and Davion Mitchell, all of which ended in double-digit numbers and a variety of dazzling pieces. Gonzaga hovered 50% all night but couldn’t beat his turnovers, Baylor’s defensive pressures, and his second chance chances.
The bears did 45% of their 3-pointers. They also won every single matchup.
Baylor was simply better than Gonzaga as it completed one of the most impressive runs in recent history of the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs became the fifth team since 1976 to enter the NCAA tournament with an unbeaten record but failed to win the title.
The confetti, the cameras, the fans and the city itself were preparing for a historic moment. And they all got what they expected … but with a different team.
A year after winning 23 games in a row and likely entry into the NCAA tournament as a top seed, Baylor brought back every key player who contributed to that run.
As they started this season by winning their first 18 games, the Bears were largely overshadowed by Gonzaga, who appeared to be capable of becoming the first team since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers – and the first team since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 – to end a perfect season.
Besides, Baylor’s sluggish return after a three-week hiatus was not encouraging.
After a poor performance against a subpar Iowa State team and losses to Kansas in the regular season and then to Oklahoma State in the Big 12, it was fair to ask if Baylor had lost anything while sidelined with no opportunity to do all of the training.
However, Drew told ESPN that the early loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament had helped his team refocus and prepare for that run.
While the aftermath of Monday’s matchup will likely focus on Gonzaga missing his shot in history and the ramifications for a program that appeared to be set for a flawless season, that was what played out for Baylor on Monday , just as rich.
The bears also have an underdog history.
Drew took the job in 2003 after the program weathered a scandal including a murder and former coach Dave Bliss’ attempt to commit a cover-up. In its third season, the NCAA announced Drew’s team that it would have to pay for Bliss’ sins by not playing non-conference games.
He turned those ashes into a program that ran in multiple NCAA tournaments but never quite beat the top teams that stood between him and the national championship. Until Monday.
Baylor finished the 2020-21 season as the best team in America and a champion. It brought this victory over a team that hadn’t lost all season. One of the game’s great juggernauts.
Now a coach who feared years ago that his fellow coaching colleagues would gain an advantage over his program by knowing about the trinkets in his locker room has become the standard in college basketball.
Baylor is an elite program.
That’s the story.