One of the greatest rebuilding stories in college basketball history has added another chapter: a Final Four.
Baylor, a program with just one spot in the NCAA men’s tournament since 1950 before Scott Drew took over amid scandal and NCAA penalties, is now heading to the Final Four. The Bears kept an energetic Arkansas team at bay all the way, leading from cable to cable to win the South Region.
The No. 1-seeded Bears scored the game’s first seven points and forced a timeout from Arkansas in less than four minutes with a quick 13-2 lead. And while foul trouble for star guard Davion Mitchell curbed an attack by Baylor who once held a 29-11 lead in it, the Hogs appeared to be holding on to life against the Bears 26-2. In the end, Eric Musselman’s club 9-2 closing run in the first half reduced the deficit to a more manageable eight at the break.
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As the Razorbacks continued to fight and kept things interesting, the Bears always seemed to have a timely response. Mitchell made some key drives to the basket to keep the Bears in control. Perhaps the biggest dagger: Veteran Arkansas guard Jalen Tate looked good to cut the deficit to four with less than five minutes to play, but the shot went off. A long rebound allowed Baylor to push into the transition, and Mitchell found a wide open MaCio Teague for a grueling three that extended the lead to nine. Arkansas would never seriously threaten after that.
Teague led all scorers with 22 points, but Mitchell was the engine that got the Bears into this one. He posted 12 points and six assists, but was constantly active thanks to his quick first step and elite defensive instincts. Also critical: Baylor had 25 points off his bench, with strong contributions from Adam Flagler (10 points), Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (eight points, six rebounds) and Matthew Mayer (seven points, three steals).
Arkansas, a relatively young team that starts with three freshmen and two graduates transfers, will regret the 15 turnovers it committed in this one. Those gifts turned into 21 Baylor points, points the Razorbacks couldn’t afford to concede in a game of this magnitude. And while the Hogs had come back from double-digit deficits in each of their first three games at Indianapolis, they could never get over the hump against such a talented and experienced team as Baylor. Still, a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA men’s tournament for the first time in 25 years is impressive, particularly in the second season of the Musselman era.
The Bears advance to face Houston for a spot in the national championship game. Both programs have made unthinkable changes to bring once-dying teams to the gates of a championship. The battle for Texas will pit two teams that combined to lose just five games all season.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.