The madness came to an end Monday night because Baylor’s men squad defeated Gonzaga University to join the Stanford University women’s basketball team as the 2021 NCAA Champions.
From buzzer-beaters to no calls down to breastfeeding, March Madness was worth every bit of the blood-boiling suspense. Though Baylor men’s basketball and Stanford women’s basketball walked out as champions, the true madness happened elsewhere throughout the tournament. Here are the five best moments of March Madness.
No. 5: Game. Blouses. Pose.
The NCAA Women’s Tournament was one for the ages, kicking off with No. 2 Texas skating by Troy University after a missed backcourt. The Longhorn’s next game was even wilder. No. 4 Iowa State controlled the majority of the game, shooting 53% from three, whereas Texas A&M only shot 21% from behind the arc.
Despite the three-point disparity, the Aggies pushed the game into overtime — thanks to the heroics of shooting guard Jordan Nixon. Once in overtime, Iowa State took control again. In the final 90 seconds of the extra period, Nixon put her cape back on.
Nixon went coast to coast with seven seconds left, finishing an acrobatic layup at the buzzer. After her shot dropped, she stopped and smiled at the nearest camera before her team rushed her to celebrate.
No. 4: No Pressure. No Problem.
The UCLA Bruins are always March Madness darlings, especially over the past few years with the women’s team holding that truth up. However, this year the men’s team joined the party going from the play-in game all the way to the Final Four.
Their Sweet 16 matchup, much like their other tournament games, was a contest won by grit. Facing the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, the Bruins had the game all but won. Up three with less than five seconds in the game, the Crimson Tide had to go the full 90 feet. Instead of pressuring the ball, UCLA elected to pick up at half court.
Alabama pushed the ball and pitched it back to their shooter, Alex Reese, for a 30-plus foot three-pointer. Reese not only hit the shot but hit cords. Granted, the Bruins went on to win the game in overtime, but the habit of not pressuring the ball in the backcourt came back and proved to haunt them later in the tournament.
UConn Women’s basketball and Baylor Women’s basketball have a storied history because a majority of their games are remembered for being instant classics. Their Elite Eight matchup was no different.
The refs allowed the women to play physically the entire game as NCAA Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Paige Beukers was practically manhandled for a majority of the fourth quarter. With that said, the game featured gritty defense and high execution from both sides.
None of that will be remembered though, solely because of the last play. Baylor, down one, inbounded the ball in their frontcourt with 17.2 seconds left in the game and the shot clock off. The play broke down as their point guard Sarah Andrews dribbled off nearly 11 seconds. She was able to get the ball to Baylor’s scorer DiJonai Carrington who then dribbled into a double team.
Carrington tried to shoot over the double team but didn’t draw any iron. Carrington, and the majority of social media, believed that the play was a clear foul. However, the physical nature of the play matched the rest of the game — a game where fouls weren’t called unless of barbaric nature.
No. 2: Two Words: Adia Barnes
In 2018 the Arizona Wildcats women’s basketball team struggled to beat mid-major universities. In 2021, that same team found themselves in the National Championship. That turnaround is all because of head coach Adia Barnes.
Barnes, a former Wildcat and WNBA player, upped the team’s recruiting and placed her faith in an undersized guard named Aari McDonald. Barnes, a new mother, was often late to pre-games as she is still breastfeeding and opened up about being a working mom in sports — particularly in a bubble.
She was a part of history, as this year was the first time two Black women head coaches appeared in the NCAA Final Four. Barnes even stood up for herself as critics called for her to apologize for wholeheartedly celebrating her team’s Final Four victory in what she viewed as an intimate moment.
Arizona upset Texas A&M, UConn and nearly beat Stanford for the title. In every matchup, McDonald was the clear best player on the court, while the Wildcat defense was stifling — even giving the Beukers a hard time. Though Arizona came up short, Adia Barnes won the tournament.
No.1: UCLA vs Gonzaga
This game will go down as one of, if not the best, college basketball games in NCAA history. So much happened. The Bruins outplayed Gonzaga in almost every statistical category, yet found themselves in a ball fight.
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs dazzled the entire basketball community, rejecting UCLA center Cody Riley at the rim then pushing the ball and whipping out a half-court bounce pass, which was eerily reminiscent of Magic Johnson. UCLA had their answer following that play with a 7-0 run.
Gonzaga rallied back from a nine-point deficit with three minutes left in the game — sending the game into overtime. The extra period was nip and tuck, with Bruin guard Johnny Juzang tying the game up once again with 3.3 seconds left.
Yet, UCLA elected to continue to not pressure the ball. Because of that choice, Suggs was able to curl for the in-bound pass and push the ball from baseline to mid-court, stepping into a 30-plus foot jumper. The shot banked in with zero seconds left in the game. Suggs then ran off celebrating, jumping onto the media table smoothly and showing his athleticism.
Though the Zags didn’t accomplish the undefeated season feat, the game, and particularly the shot, will go down in NCAA history.