The Baylor University men's basketball team spent the season living in the shadow of undefeated Gonzaga, which head coach Scott Drew didn't let them forget ahead of Monday night's national championship game.
"I think coach Drew and the staff does a great job of showing us clips of everybody and their mama giving us crap and just saying how Gonzaga's going to beat us, so that always adds fuel to the fire," junior guard Jared Butler said on TODAY Tuesday. "But at the same time, we're big-time competitors and we wanted to do it for us, and the guys we have on our team, and the sacrifices we made."
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Baylor ended Gonzaga's dream of becoming the first unbeaten Division I men's basketball team since Indiana in 1976 with a dominating 86-70 victory for the Bears' first national championship in program history.
A team that entered the tournament ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Gonzaga took down the Bulldogs (31-1) by racing to a 9-0 lead and never looking back. The Bears pushed it to 23-8, which was the biggest deficit Gonzaga had faced all season.
Baylor held the Zags to a season-low 70 points, and Butler won Most Outstanding Player honors after finishing with 22 points and 7 assists.
"The funny part is I haven't gone to sleep," Butler said. "I'm still riding the wave, I'm still wearing the shirt I was wearing at the game, still got the hat on. It's just amazing."
As if there already wasn't enough on the line, Drew made sure to give his team a little extra motivation before tip-off.
"Well, I said if we win, we'll be on the 'Today' show," he said before smiling. "(I) love your guys' show, we watched it during COVID, me and my wife, all the time, you guys know your sports, I love that."
The chemistry and camaraderie during a challenging season played in a pandemic was nearly as important as the Bears' stifling defense when it came to making history.
"Our team plays with a culture of joy," Drew said. "If you're going to be in a bubble for four weeks with anyone, be with a bunch with a bunch of guys you enjoy being with. We had a great time."
Cutting down the nets was a culmination of a remarkable rebuilding job by Drew. When he took over the program in 2003, Baylor was in the midst of a horrifying scandal in which Baylor player Carlton Dotson pleaded guilty to murdering teammate Patrick Dennehy.
An NCAA investigation also found that former head coach Dave Bliss was involved in making illegal payments to players and tried to frame Dennehy as a drug dealer. He also had players lie to investigators to cover himself.
A 2003 clip shown on TODAY Tuesday showed Drew's commitment to building something special when he took over the job amid all the turmoil.
"This is definitely a David vs. Goliath situation, and it might take some time, but I can tell you this, our staff will have the work ethic, the integrity and the commitment to success needed to get his program where it needs to go," he said 18 years ago.
The Bears have gone from that dark day to Monday night's euphoria, with everyone from Baylor superfans and proud Waco residents Chip and Joanna Gaines to NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, who won the Heisman Trophy playing at Baylor, celebrating the historic win.
The Bears (28-2) became the first Division I men's team from Texas to win March Madness since Texas-Western in 1966, a team that was the subject of the 2006 movie "Glory Road."
"It makes it really sweet from the standpoint just like a proud parent, when you see your players, that's like your kids, your past players, your fans, your administration and the city of Waco, the state of Texas," Drew said.