INDIANAPOLIS — Jared Butler said he started to worry when he wasn't making shots in his first three March Madness games. The Final Four's Most Outstanding Player had the luxury of winning despite not playing his best until the pinnacle of the season because of Baylor teammates Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague.
"My teammates found me, kept feeding me the ball, telling me to shoot the ball," Butler said. "I'm glad it came at the right time."
Butler made his first four shots (10 points) to help the Bears start fast and emerge with a 86-70 win over Gonzaga in the national championship game. Baylor's defense was praised. Its athletic big men were lauded. But the net-cutting equation starts with one of the best guard trios in men's NCAA Tournament history.
"We had no answers as far as keeping their guards in front and made a couple of
mistakes," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "We talked about not doing as far as giving them catch-and-shoot 3s or shake-down 3s, and they made us pay in a hurry."
First, it was Mitchell with a pair of step-back jumpers in the opening minutes. Midway through, Teague caught fire. But Butler was the tone-setter, with 22 points and seven assists off four three-pointers. Teague had 19 and Mitchell 15.
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"We say it all the time, we think we're the best guards in the nation," Butler said. "We went up against some highly touted guards (on Gonzaga). They're explosive. And we want to be the best guards in the nation. And I think we proved that tonight. We made a statement. And it's just the best way to do it on national TV, NCAA Tournament championship game, like, it's amazing to do it."
The three guards are able to defend at an elite level – Mitchell is the national defensive player of the year – penetrate to keep defenses on their toes and create their own shots from the perimeter off the dribble. Their chemistry with each other is the extra ingredient. They averaged a combined 46.6 points in 2020-21 and helped the Bears lead the nation in three-point shooting percentage (42%).
"I knew they were going to be a handful for us," Few said. "Just those guards are so quick and they can all get to their own shot."
ESPN analyst Dick Vitale argued that Baylor is really four guards deep with Adam Flagler coming off the bench as a key contributor. Flagler had 13 points in the title game.
"Those guards, together, are some of the best we've seen on one team in quite some time," Vitale said.
On Sunday, Baylor coach Scott Drew compared his team's guards to Dee Brown, Luther Head and Deron Williams from an Illinois team that lost to North Carolina in the 2005 national championship, saying his group might go down in NCAA Tournament history as the best ever. Do any other guard trios compare? Perhaps Arizona's Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Jason Terry on the 1997 national title team.
"One thing I can tell you about our guards: when the best is needed, the
best is usually provided," Drew said. "No pressure, no diamonds. And our guys, the better the opponent, the better they play. And they love being the first – first to win conference since 1950, first to win a national championship. I mean, that really motivates them. And when you've got a competitor like that and a competitive group like that, really makes it easy to coach."
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baylor's guard trio keys national championship: 'No answers'