A look back at March Madness 2021...

We have NCAA champions on the hardwood! The 2021 NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments are now over. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, March Madness was full of great action and good memories this year... The NCAA can be proud of having been able to organize fantastic basketball tournaments for both young men and women during these uncertain times. As a matter of fact, college men's or women's basketball fans and observers were thrilled all season long. In times of health crisis, NCAA did all it could for March Madness 2021 to take place in "bubbles" even if, at some point, women’s teams have received unequal and subpar treatments.

The Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the site of the 2021 Men's Final Four "bubble"

The 2021 Men's Final Four was held at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN from Apr. 3rd to 5th, 2021. Houston, UCLA, Gonzaga and Baylor qualified for the Men's Final Four. In the first semifinal game held on Apr. 3rd, Houston played Baylor in a 100% Texan college basketball game. In the second semifinal, UCLA, the only team of the 2021 Final Four that won the NCAA championship title in the past (11 times), faced Gonzaga, undefeated and still running for a perfect score in 2020-21. On Mar. 18th, the UCLA Bruins had to qualify for the tournament by defeating Michigan State in overtime during the First Four round. On their way to the final weekend, the Bruins struggled and eventually won a few close games. In the Elite Eight game against Michigan (51-49) scheduled a few days before the Final Four weekend, the UCLA offense had to be carried by Johnny Juzang (guard, 1.98m, sophomore). Tournament top seed Gonzaga took advantage of some early Southern California jitters to cruise past the Trojans (85-66) and therefore qualified for the Final Four. Beside Gonzaga this year, only two other teams (UNLV in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015) have brought an undefeated record into the Final Four since the bracket expanded to 64 teams (in 1985). Baylor reached the Final Four for the first time since 1950. After their win over Arkansas (81-72) on Mar. 29th, the Baylor Bears travelled to Indianapolis with strong guard-oriented offense as well as a great field-goal percentage reputation in their luggage. The Houston Cougars came to the Final Four despite recording a rather poor shooting percentage in the tournament, especially in their Elite Eight game against Oregon State (67-61). Houston overcame this lack of field goal precision by remaining pretty strict and strong in defense. The Cougars reached their first Final Four since 1984 despite shooting a season-low 32.3% from the field against Oregon State.

What a fantastic basketball action we got the chance to witness through social networks and major American media from Apr. 3rd to 5th! Even if the first semifinal ended with a rather easy win for the Baylor Bears over the Houston Cougars, the quality of the game was pretty high. After 8'08" into the game, the Bears had the early edge in rebounds and also shot 55.6%, knocking down three treys. Baylor's swingman Matthew Mayer (guard/forward, 2.06m, junior) came off the bench with a quick 5 points and propelled his team to a 17-11 lead. A few moments later, the scoreboard showed 24-14 for Baylor. The Cougars could not stop the Bears from being in control and up 45-20 at the half. Baylor's Jared Butler (guard, 1.90m, junior) scored 17 points on 6/8 shooting, making 4 three-pointers in the first half. Marcus Sasser (guard, 1.88m, sophomore) also had 17 points in the first 20 minutes of play, accounting for most of the Cougars' points scored in the period. The Cougars' small run to start the second half was not enough to truly challenge the Bears. The team of Head Coach Scott Drew eventually avoided a last charge by Houston and qualified for the championship game. The Bears also had some nice moves, used passing (23 assists) and were efficient from behind the arc to dominantly win the game. The Cougars shot only 38.2%, compared with Baylor's 52.7%.

Scott Drew, Head Coach of the Baylor Bears

The other semifinal between UCLA and Gonzaga went above and beyond all observers' expectations. The contest between the Bruins and the Bulldogs is going to remain one of the greatest and most thrilling games in the NCAA tournament's history. Both squads played very well in that semifinal clash and the Bruins could keep pace with the undefeated Zags. Each side had an impressive field goal percentage and it remained a close game all the way: 9-10, 25-27 and 45-44 for the Bulldogs at the break. Gonzaga took the lead late in the first half thanks to their French player Joel Ayayi (guard, 1.96m, junior) who remained a perfect 6/6 from the floor and with Drew Timme (center/forward, 2.08m, sophomore), Corey Kispert (forward, 2.01m, senior) and Jalen Suggs (guard, 1.93m, freshman) combining for 22 points until then. UCLA remained in the race through the second half. The scoreboard showed 75-74 for Gonzaga with 4'31" left in the game. The Dogs and the Bruins kept shooting well and finished tied at 81-81 after 40 minutes of play. An overtime was therefore needed for Gonzaga to protect its perfection. With a few seconds left in OT, UCLA was trailing behind by 2 points (88-90).

Then, this happened...


Click on the image above to start the YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx3LuhZOFn8).

UCLA's Johnny Juzang tied the game at 90-90 in the closing seconds with a putback of his own miss. On the next quick play, Jalen Suggs received the ball and his amazing buzzer-beating three-pointer sent Gonzaga to the national title game. Final score: 90-93, and the Bulldogs could celebrate by dancing on the press row tables... What an excellent game with high scoring and great shooting percentage: Gonzaga shot 58.7% (37 for 63) and UCLA had 57.6% from the field (34 for 59)! Definitely a classic which will be remembered by all college basketball fans...

The ESPN Radio SportsCenter report after the semifinals, for example, focused during 10-12 minutes on the UCLA vs. Gonzaga game as well as Suggs' clutch play whereas it summarized the Baylor vs. Houston match-up in just two minutes.

Jared Butler, the 2021 NCAA men's tournament MOP 

Baylor and Gonzaga played for the NCAA championship on Apr. 5th. The Bears had a tremendous start in the final game. Gonzaga, the highest-scoring NCAA Division 1 team in 2020-21, looked for its first basket during a long time. Davion Mitchell (guard, 1.85m, junior) and Jared Butler showed the way to the basket for Baylor. The Bears quickly took a 19-point lead, putting the Bulldogs in an uncomfortable position in which they had never been before. Gonzaga's Head Coach Mark Few decided then to play zone defense and it allowed his squad to come closer by halftime: 38-26 and 47-37. Even in the championship game, both teams were shooting at least 50 percent again. Drew Timme's efforts helped the Bulldogs stay competitive in the final. The Dogs nevertheless started to struggle from long range and the Bears were able to dig a rather large gap again: 56-45 and 67-51. The Bears even led by a 20-point margin and remained in command. Jared Butler had 20 points and 7 assists for the winners. Butler's mates MaCio Teague (guard, 1.90m, senior) had 19 points and both Davion Mitchell and Adam Flagler (guard, 1.90m, junior) added 13 each. With their final and dominating 86-70 victory in the 2021 NCAA tournament championship game, the Bears denied the Gonzaga Bulldogs a perfect season and won their first national title.

To date, Indiana is the last team to go the entire season undefeated. Indiana of Coach Bobby Knight had a perfect record of 32 wins and no loss in 1976 when the Hoosiers defeated the Michigan Wolverines 86-68 in the national title game.

Baylor's Jared Butler is the Most Outstanding Player of the 2021 NCAA men's tournament. Here is also the 2021 All-Tournament Team: Johnny Juzang, UCLA; Davion Mitchell, Baylor; Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga; Drew Timme, Gonzaga and Jared Butler, Baylor.

There are several other NCAA Men's Final Four players to be watched in the next few seasons. Some of them might experience professional basketball overseas in the years to come:

- Mark Vital (guard/forward, 1.96m, senior), who was Baylor's leading rebounder last season (6.7 rebounds per game), is a versatile and very athletic player whom Bert had seen in action at the 25th U20 World Tournament in Tourcoing in 2014 and had picked in his All-Tournament First Team back then (read more at http://berthoop.blogspot.com/2014/07/25th-u20-world-tournament-in-tourcoing.html);
- two talented African players appeared on the Baylor roster this season: Florent Thamba (forward, 2.08m, junior) from Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as Jonathan Tchatchoua (forward, 2.03m, sophomore) born in Cameroon and having an Australian passport;
- although his Final Four performance was not often highlighted in the media, Gonzaga's Canadian player Andrew Nembhard (guard, 1.96m, junior) was quite efficient and recorded great stats through the whole season: 9.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game;
- special mention to UCLA's Mexican player Jaime Jaquez Jr. (swingman, 1.98m, sophomore) who averaged 12.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game for the Bruins in 2020-21;
- finally, Quentin Grimes (guard, 1.96m, junior) who averaged 17.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.4 steals for Houston last season is to be mentioned among the top players who were in action during the Final Four in Indianapolis, IN.

In the women's competition, South Carolina Gamecock, UConn Huskies, Arizona Wildcats and Stanford Cardinal reached the 2021 Final Four which was held in San Antonio, TX last weekend. At the semifinal stage, Stanford defeated South Carolina by the closest margin 66-65 and Arizona convincingly won against UConn 69-59. Then, the Cardinal defeated the Wildcats 54-53 in the national championship game of the 2021 NCAA women's basketball tournament played on Apr. 4th. Stanford secured a third-ever championship title. It was the first time that two teams from the PAC-12 faced off for a national title in the NCAA women's tourney. In the final game, the Cardinal were led by Haley Jones (guard, 1.85m, sophomore), named the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player. With less than 6 seconds to go, Arizona got the ball off a shot clock violation from Stanford. Aari McDonald (guard, 1.68m, senior), the Wildcats' star player, could not get the buzzer beater to fall, giving therefore Stanford the win.

Arizona's guard Aari McDonald has just missed the buzzer beater in the NCAA women's national championship game and Stanford can celebrate...

In the NBA, the Los Angeles Lakers played neighbouring Los Angeles Clippers on that very same weekend. The NBA game, presented by local media as the Battle of LA, disappointed several analysts and observers who were eventually happy to have seen young and enthusiastic college kids show the essence of the game elsewhere than in LA that weekend! Some of the March Madness 2021 heroes will soon take the step to challenge WNBA and NBA stars and that will be refreshing for sure...

Keep reading the news here on a regular basis. You will know more about the 2020-21 berthoop Men's All-America Team and other awards very soon!

2021 Men's Final Four
Semifinals:

Houston Cougars vs. Baylor Bears: 59-78
Score at halftime: 20-45
Best scorers:
Houston Cougars: Reggie Chaney 6, Justin Gorham 3, Marcus Sasser 20, Quentin Grimes 13, Dejon Jarreau 6, Fabian White Jr. 4, Tramon Mark 4, Jamal Shead 3.
Baylor Bears: Flo Thamba 4, Jared Butler 17, Davion Mitchell 12, Macio Teague 11, Mark Vital 2, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua 11, Adam Flagler 7, Matthew Mayer 12.

UCLA Bruins vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs: 90-93 (after OT)
Score at halftime: 44-45
Score after 40 minutes: 81-81
Best scorers:
UCLA Bruins: Cody Riley 14, Jaime Jaquez Jr. 19, Johnny Juzang 29, Tyger Campbell 17, Jules Bernard 5, Jaylen Clark 3, David Singleton 3.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: Drew Timme 25, Corey Kispert 15, Jalen Suggs 16, Andrew Nembhard 11, Joel Ayayi 22, Anton Watson 2, Aaron Cook 2.

Final:

Baylor Bears vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs: 86-70
Score at halftime: 47-37
Best scorers:
Baylor Bears: Flo Thamba 3, Jared Butler 22, Davion Mitchell 15, Macio Teague 19, Mark Vital 6, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua 6, Adam Flagler 13, Matthew Mayer 2.
Gonzaga Bulldogs: Drew Timme 12, Corey Kispert 12, Jalen Suggs 22, Andrew Nembhard 9, Joel Ayayi 8, Anton Watson 4, Julian Strawther 3.

2021 Women's Championship Game

Stanford Cardinal vs. Arizona Wildcats: 54-53
Score at halftime: 31-24
Best scorers:
Stanford Cardinal: Cameron Brink 10, Lexie Hull 10, Haley Jones 17, Kiana Williams 5, Anna Wilson 5, Ashten Prechtel 7.
Arizona Wildcats: Trinity Baptiste 7, Aari McDonald 22, Cate Reese 4, Bendu Yeaney 2, Shaina Pellington 15, Helena Pueyo 3.

Sources: espn.com; ncaa.org; eurobasket.com; YouTube.com, NPR and CBS.
Pictures and courtesy: tpsdave - pixabay.com; Trevor Brown/NCAA Photos via Getty Images; Jamie Squire/Getty Images and Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star.

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