Illustration by Amelia Madarang

Bears best Bulldogs in first-ever March Madness Championship win

Following last year’s heartbreaking cancellation of March Madness, fans of men’s college basketball have rejoiced over this year’s shock-inducing tournament. Brackets were busted across the country as this year saw a record-breaking 14 upsets. Ultimately, the Baylor Bears won their first-ever national championship over the Gonzaga Bulldogs, pulling a slight upset and rounding out the tournament with an 86-70 victory.

During the first round, several underdog teams earned decisive wins to advance to the second round. In the West Region, Ohio, the No. 13 seed, narrowly defeated No. 4 seed Virginia while Oregon advanced after their game against Virginia Commonwealth was canceled due to COVID-19. The East Region’s No. 10 seed Maryland, No. 11 seed UCLA and No. 14 seed Abilene Christian scored victory margins between one and 11 points. In the North and South Regions, North Texas, Oregon State and Syracuse won commanding victories over higher-seeded teams as underdogs Wisconsin, Oral Roberts and Rutgers also moved on to the second round.

Devout disciples of West Coast teams had their prayers answered during second round games. In the Pac-12 Conference, No. 6 USC, No. 7 Oregon, No. 11 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon State — all underdogs — delivered drama-filled games against several accomplished teams. Oregon State’s 80-70 performance over No. 4 Oklahoma State was particularly impressive as Ethan Thompson and Maurice Calloo scored 51% of the team’s points and proved which school is the official “OSU.” No. 1 Gonzaga, undefeated through the Final Four, rolled over No. 8 Oklahoma to advance. The second round also saw the fall of No. 1 Illinois to No. 8 Loyola Chicago in a 71-58 matchup.

In the Sweet Sixteen, UCLA’s extraordinary 88-78 victory over No. 2 Alabama was unparalleled. Despite their horrendous free throw performance, Alabama overcame a deficit in the second half, tying the game with a jaw-dropping 26-foot shot from Alex Reese in the final seconds of regulation play. During overtime, amid roaring chants of “U-C-L-A,” the Bruins routed Alabama in one of the most emotionally exhilarating games of the entire tournament.

The Oregon Ducks fell to USC in frustratingly underwhelming fashion during the Sweet Sixteen. Oregon State, meanwhile, continued their Cinderella-esque charge by besting No. 8 Loyola Chicago. No other upsets occurred this round, though No. 3 Arkansas nearly lost to No. 13 Oral Roberts in an excruciatingly close 72-70 game.

By the Elite Eight, all eyes were on the Pac-12. Conference stakeholders have long argued that Pac-12 teams are underappreciated and often ranked too low; this year, three of their teams advanced to the Elite Eight, much to the chagrin of expert analysts. Oregon State’s second half comeback was not enough to overcome No. 2 Houston’s impressive first half offense, falling in a teary 67-61 loss. The Gonzaga Bulldogs swept USC and marched onward to the Final Four. UCLA orchestrated another white knuckle victory over No. 1 Michigan, with Johnny Juzang leading the Bruins to a 51-49 win. The Final Four was set with UCLA against Gonzaga and No. 1 Baylor comfortably advancing to face Houston.

The first Final Four game on April 3 featured Baylor rolling over Houston with fury, dominating play from the start of the first half. Jared Butler led the team to a 78-59 victory and Baylor’s first appearance in the national championship since 1948. Later that day, Gonzaga narrowly defeated UCLA with an overtime buzzer-beater by Jalen Suggs, sending the Bulldogs to their second-ever national championship. The epic performances by both teams, coupled with UCLA’s underdog status and Gonzaga’s undefeated record, resulted in many analysts calling the game perhaps the greatest in March Madness history.

Ultimately, against expert odds, Baylor clinched the national title on April 5 with an impressive victory over West Coast powerhouse Gonzaga. Starting the first half with a 9-0 lead, the game had little drama as Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague led the Bears on an unbreakable drive that Gonzaga never came close to overcoming. As Bulldogs mourn in Spokane, Washington, Baylor fans have overtaken Waco, Texas, to celebrate the team’s first national championship win.

Despite fears that the coronavirus would derail the tournament, the NCAA and city of Indianapolis executed a March Madness packed with historic triumphs, debilitating disappointment and an abundance of belligerent expletives hurled at television sets. Now, fans tend to their wounds and await next year’s tournament, one hopefully including stadiums filled with vaccinated supporters.

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