When Gonzaga went to a zone defense late in the first half of Monday night’s national title game and cut Baylor’s lead to just 10 points entering halftime, it appeared the Bulldogs may found the key to slowing the Bears’ prolific offensive attack.
The Bulldogs doubled down on the approach to begin the second half, and that’s when Jared Butler did what he came back to college basketball to do.
Baylor blows out Gonzaga in shocking, dominant fashion. A championship edition of Eye on College Basketball recaps the national championship game.
Butler talked to 20 NBA teams while weighing whether to return to Baylor for the 2020-21 season, and he could be collecting a professional paycheck somewhere right now. But there was something on his mind as he weighed his decision. As he explained when he announced his return, it was “unfinished business” that prompted his return.
“Baylor, I’m coming back,” Butler said this summer. “Let’s go win a national championship.”
With Gonzaga attempting to mount what would have been the largest comeback in national championship game history, Butler began to finish that business.
The junior guard drilled two 3-pointers in the first 61 seconds of the second half to re-establish Baylor’s momentum and put a quick end to Gonzaga’s zone experiment. His six-point flurry put the Zags back on their heels and sparked a strong finish to the second half in Baylor’s 86-70 victory that made Butler a man of his word and a man of legend on the Baylor campus.
Baylor would have been a good team even without Butler, as fellow backcourt mates Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague both took strides this season to help form college basketball’s best trio of guards. But without his surgical precision in Baylor’s pair of Final Four games, the program’s first-ever national title would have been slog.
Butler turned it into smooth sailing. First, he scored 17 points in the first 16 minutes of Saturday’s 78-59 dismantling of Houston. Then, on Monday, he hit six of his first eight shots to help Baylor dissect a Gonzaga team that would have been considered an all-time great if it could have pulled off a victory Monday night.
Those back-to-back clutch performances are why he was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player, they are why he returned to college basketball and why he’ll be immortalized in Waco, Texas.
“This place has been a second home for me since I stepped foot on campus,” he said when announcing his decision to return. “I’ve built relationships that will last a lifetime. Last season at Baylor was the most incredible experience of my basketball career. Going to battle night in and night out with my brothers and climbing all the way to No. 1 in the country, it was truly unforgettable. But then our season was cut short.
“We didn’t get the chance to finish what we started.”
Eight months later, the job is done, largely because Butler willed his words into reality.
“Ever a moment I didn’t believe? I don’t think so,” Butler said. “I think when we all decided to come back, I was like, ‘yeah, we definitely have a chance to be the best team ever at Baylor, the best team — first team to make it to the Final Four.’ When you have a goal for that long, we all knew the goal. Like, everybody knew the mission. And I think everybody sacrificed for it. And I think that’s why we’re here today. And just, whew, so glad that everybody came back.
“We got the band back and we won. That’s cool. Gotta make a movie out of it.”