Every year, 64 NCAA basketball teams fight to claw their way through the six round playoffs known as March Madness, complete with major upsets and thrilling games. This year was no exception, as many higher seeded teams fell to those ranked below them. However, despite all the madness, both men’s and women’s champions were crowned to number one seeds.
On the women’s side, the Stanford Cardinals raised the trophy and cut down the net after thrilling final four and championship games. They dominated their first four games of the tournament with wins over Utah State, Oklahoma State, Missouri State and Louisville. Then, the Cardinals went on to narrowly beat fellow one seed South Carolina by one in the final four and third ranked Arizona by the same margin in the national championship.
The scoring was led by guard Haley Jones, as she notched 17 points and was named the most outstanding player for the Cardinals. Aarion McDonald carried the Arizona Wildcats throughout the final game, scoring 22 points, including two free throws to put her team within one with 36 seconds left. However, the Wildcat’s star player could not hit the last three to win, and the Cardinals hung on to win the 2021 Women’s March Madness. The one seed from California ended their season with an impressive 31-2 record, Pac-12 Conference champions, and national champions.
The men’s tournament shared similar thrilling matchups throughout the tournament before the Baylor Bears were crowned champions. In the round of 64, Oral Roberts, a 15th seed, took down a second seed, Ohio State, by only three points, punching their ticket to the round of 32. There, they conquered the University of Florida, a seven seed, before eventually falling in the sweet sixteen to Arkansas. Similarly, seven seeded Loyola Chicago, who made a final four run in 2017, fought their way to the sweet sixteen defeating a number one seed and in-state rival, Illinois.
However, the biggest Cinderella story of the tournament was the UCLA Bruins, as the 11 seed battled to be one of the last four standing. Their biggest win occurred in the elite eight where they beat Michigan, another one seed, making their way to Indianapolis for the final four. There they played in one of the most exciting games in the entire tournament against the then undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs. The game was back and forth until both teams found themselves with the same score at the end of regulation. In overtime, Johnny Juzang scored to tie the game 90-90 for the Bruins with a little more than three seconds to go. However, Jalen Suggs, a six foot four freshman, dribbled down the court and banked in a three to keep the perfect season alive for Gonzaga.
The championship game was set, as the Bulldogs looked to defeat fellow one seed Baylor to achieve an undefeated season and win the first national championship in Gonzaga history. A very athletic Baylor team had different plans, though, starting the game with an unanswered nine points. MaCio Teague, Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell led their Bears to a dominant 86-70 victory, each having 15 points or more. This one sided championship game did not reflect the thrill and excitement of March NCAA basketball, but it still caps the return of an amazing tournament after being cancelled last year due to the pandemic
Top photo: Stanford storms the court in celebration after a great defensive stop. Photo: @stanfordwbb on Instagram