march madness 2021

While the women's championship game was decided by a single point and the men's championship game was a blowout, both lived up to the expectations characteristic of March Madness.

NCAAW Champion: Stanford Cardinal 54, Arizona Wildcats 53

Quick Analysis: Arizona started the game slow, converting just two of 14 field goals in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Stanford won the first half turnover battle 8-3 and took better care of the ball throughout the game. To be blunt, Stanford looked much better and it showed on the scoreboard with a 31-24 edge going into halftime.

In the fourth quarter, Arizona rallied to a one-point deficit with 3:37 remaining but couldn’t capitalize on a final play that, if successful, would have given them the win. We’ll discuss that particular play at length later, but, in conclusion, the Cardinal eked out a 54-53 championship win over an upstart Arizona squad that went 6-24 just three years prior.

This is where the fun begins — I’ve taken it upon myself to present two unique awards of merit, one for each team, based on the championship-caliber performances (or lack thereof) of individual players during the championship game.

Hardest Worker Award: Kiana Williams, Stanford

Kiana Williams played all 40 minutes of the game, which is impressive in and of itself. More importantly, while she had a rather pedestrian game statistically speaking, Williams helped shut down Aari McDonald, Arizona’s strongest player on offense and undisputed team leader. It was crucial for Stanford to give 100 percent on defense, and when called to the task, Kiana Williams delivered.

Least Valuable Player: Aari McDonald, Arizona

Don’t get me wrong — Aari McDonald is a tremendous athlete. She holds the school record for most points in a single season at 890. She is also the 2021 Pac-12 Player of the Year, a six-time Pac-12 Player of the Week and, if that wasn’t enough, garnered 2021 ESPN Second Team All-American honors this season. However, her performance in the championship game fell short in multiple ways: while she was good at getting into the paint, she failed to distribute the ball to her teammates and hit open shooters. She also committed two turnovers and held on to the ball for too long early in the game. The truth is in the numbers: McDonald shot 5-21 from the floor.

Final Thoughts: Arizona’s last play of the game was poorly executed. First, they nearly got a five-second violation for not passing the ball in fast enough. Then, with only six seconds on the clock, Arizona inbounded the ball at around half court. It took two or three seconds for the ball handler to reach the 3-point line, an area where she could reasonably shoot from. Then, well ... look, if you take that long to get a shot off, the shot has to be perfect. With three seconds left, Aari McDonald was forced to toss up a prayer while being triple-teamed, a fadeaway that had little chance of going in. Down one, this is not the shot you want. In my opinion, Arizona lacked composure and basketball IQ in the game’s biggest moment and paid the ultimate price for it.

NCAAM Champion: Baylor Bears 86, Gonzaga Bulldogs 70

Quick Analysis: Baylor exploded onto the court with a 9-0 run to start the game, then dealt Gonzaga their biggest deficit of the tournament (19 points) at 29-10 in the first half. Gonzaga looked flustered, not having been behind the entire season, so it was a completely new look for them; within the first five minutes, Baylor had taken 13 shots to Gonzaga’s four. Additionally, Gonzaga also failed to rebound well in the first half, despite Baylor only having four forwards on their roster.

The Zags got burned with mismatches early on, so they switched to a 2-3 zone to combat Baylor’s 5-out offense and fought back to a 47-37 halftime deficit. Then, inexplicably, they switched out of zone defense in the second half and suffered accordingly for it. Behind Jared Butler’s 22 points, Baylor ballooned their lead up to 19 points once again, 82-63, with only four minutes to go. Then it was just a matter of running out some clock to ensure a dominating 86-70 championship victory that no one saw coming.

Now for the awards — let’s dive right in.

The Man Among Boys Award: Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga

Although Gonzaga was unable to come away with a perfect season, Jalen Suggs showed once again why he is so high on draft boards. Mr. Suggs was the only Gonzaga player who scored more than 12 points, with 22 on the night. He also shot above 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from the 3. These are indicators that Suggs’ game can translate to the next level.

Coolest Name Award: Flo Thamba, Baylor

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Objectively speaking, Flo Thamba is a flawless title that exudes confidence, style, personality and character. But while Thamba clearly has an exquisite name, he did not produce an exquisite game, scoring only three points, grabbing six rebounds and recording five fouls. Nevertheless, he definitively grabbed the attention of our exclusive, one-member committee (founded and populated entirely by me) based off of pure name recognition.

Final Thoughts: Gonzaga looked somewhat lethargic, at least in comparison to Baylor. Throughout the game, Baylor rotated quickly, hustled for loose balls, produced quick closeouts and jumped with everybody. This was shown in the stats — Baylor out-rebounded Gonzaga 38-22. They also forced a whopping 14 turnovers. Curiously, Gonzaga’s field goal percentage was 6.2 percent higher than Baylor’s, but due to turnovers and rebounding issues, Baylor had 28 more chances to score. I would argue that the fact that Baylor fouled more than Gonzaga is evidence that they played harder. While that led to free throws, they also got two more blocks than Gonzaga. They didn’t give upon easy buckets, and in the end, that made all the difference.

This is the opinion of Chris Benis, a sophomore marketing major from Seattle, Washington. Tweet comments to @LAloyolan or email comments to mthomas@theloyolan.com.

Chris Benis, asst. sports editor, has been a dedicated writer for the Loyolan since September 2020. He writes primarily about in-season critiques and enjoys publishing single-player features.

Load comments