The NCAA women’s and men’s basketball seasons wrapped up on Sunday, April 4, and Monday, April 5, respectively. Both tournaments provided excitement, upsets and tears of joy (or, in most cases, grief) over the past month, culminating with the crowning of the Stanford Cardinal on the women’s side and the Baylor Bears on the men’s.
The Cardinal entered the tournament as the highest seed and the favorite to win the championship. With Tara VanDerveer, the winningest coach in DI women’s basketball, at the helm, it seemed like a foregone conclusion when the tournament tipped off on Sunday, March 21.
The Cardinal’s powerhouse squad took on fellow PAC-12 foe Arizona in the title match after the Wildcats easily dispatched the perennial favorites Connecticut. Arizona shut down one of the best teams in women’s collegiate basketball, and the AP and John Wooden player of the year, freshman guard Paige Bueckers, thanks to Arizona’s Aari McDonald’s defensive efforts. McDonald led the game in scoring with 26 points. This marks the fourth consecutive year UConn has exited the tournament in a disappointing fashion.
"No one thought we'd win. No one thought we'd be here. We don't care," Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said after the game on the ESPN broadcast.
After the contest, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma expressed his disappointment and offered a blunt assessment of his team’s effort in the Final Four matchup. "We have a very immature group. Not just young, but a very immature group. And when we're high and when we're on top of the world, we think everything is great. When things don't go our way, there's a poutiness about us, there's a feeling sorry for ourselves about us. You don't win championships when you're like that unless you get lucky."
In the Easter Sunday finale, Stanford stormed out to an early lead of 16-8 by the time the first quarter came to a close, but Arizona was able to claw their way back in the second quarter. At halftime, the Cardinal led 31-24. In the end, Stanford was able to hold off an offensive push by the Wildcats. They won the championship, 54-53, despite a final possession that resulted in a McDonald three-point attempt clanking off the back of the rim.
The men’s championship saw undefeated Gonzaga take on the Baylor Bears. From the opening tip, it was the Bears who dominated all aspects of the game. Baylor’s suffocating defense stymied the best collegiate shooter, senior small forward Corey Kispert. The Bears were led by junior guard Jared Butler, who recorded 22 points with 12 points (4-9) coming from behind the arc. The Bears offense took control early and never relinquished the reigns as they went on to shoot a staggering 43.5% from three-point range and out-rebounded the Zags 38 to 22. Second chance opportunities were a focal point of Baylor’s offensive efforts as they recorded 16 offensive rebounds to the Zags five.
This was a culmination of head coach Scott Drew’s efforts since he took over the program in 2003. After the game, Drew’s introductory press conference was trending on Twitter, where he said, “I did not come to go to the NCAA Tournament. We came to win games at the NCAA Tournament. We came with the chance to win a national championship at Baylor University.” Drew took over the Baylor program with only seven scholarship players and a lengthy probation handed to the team by the NCAA after the murder of Patrick Dennehy by a fellow teammate. This was Baylor’s first NCAA men’s basketball championship in school history.
“When the fans are happy, that’s what makes our players happy and proud,” Drew said. “They stuck with us, they’ve been with us through the lean years. They deserve this.”
After an exciting season and tournament, we can say goodbye to the 2020-21 season and turn our eyes to the 2021-22 season. Stay tuned, as the Exponent will have updates on the recruiting and offseason preparations of both Bobcat squads.