Sports have been massively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020, but none more than NCAA basketball. For the first year since 1938, there were no NCAA Tournaments at the end of last season.
The NCAA Tournaments are a jewel in American sports and were anxiously waited upon since April 2019. With so much anticipation built up, the tournaments lived up to the hype and two deserving champions were crowned.
The women’s tournament ended Sunday night in a sweat. Stanford University held off the University of Arizona on the final play to win its first championship since 1992. The Cardinal fans could finally rejoice after being bested in their last 10 Final Four appearances since their last title.
Stanford had battled Arizona in the Pac 12 twice in the regular season where neither game was even relatively close. After beating Arizona by 27 and then 14, Stanford’s third battle with Arizona came off a historic run to end the Wildcats’ season.
Not only did senior guard Aari McDonald carry Arizona to five straight tournament victories, but Arizona also dismantled the University of Connecticut, who were heavy favorites to win it all. Connecticut made its 13th-straight Final Four, giving them a massive experience gap over Arizona which won in its first appearance.
Although Stanford had a dominant defensive performance, holding Arizona to 28.3% shooting, the championship still came down to the last play. The Cardinal trapped Aari McDonald, triple-teaming the star guard, and forced an errant shot to win 54-53.
The men’s championship game could not have gone more different than the women’s. The Baylor Bears trounced the undefeated favorites Gonzaga Bulldogs 86-70 in a wire-to-wire blowout.
Following one of the greatest shots in tournament history by Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs to knock off the University of California, Los Angeles, the Bulldogs fell for the first time this season. Gonzaga had a shot to be the first undefeated champions since the Bob Knight-led 1976 IU team.
The Bears are champions for the first time in history after making their first title game since 1948. Head coach Scott Drew fulfilled his promise of bringing a championship to Waco, Texas, which he made when he became head coach in 2003.
His team continued their hot shooting with an absurd 43.5% shooting from beyond the arc. Baylor proved to the entire country Monday night that they were by far the best team in college basketball and one of the best in history, finishing as 28-2 champions.
In a year where fans desperately needed a healthy distraction, these two teams delivered. Both tournaments provided some of the greatest tournament moments in the past few years and the beginning of the return to fan involvement in sports.