INDIANAPOLIS – The shot clock reached zero. The horn buzzed. And the Baylor Bears, it seems, were doomed from the start.
Victims of Houston’s excruciating defense on the game’s first possession, they couldn’t shoot, they could only go up from here.
Very, very high.
The Bears were never left holding the ball at that buzzer, aside from the final second, when the final horn shouted over Lucas Oil Stadium to signal their 78-59 victory over No. 2 seed Houston and their entry into the national championship game. male. for the first time since 1948.
The nation’s best three-point shooting team hit their first three 3-pointers, was 7-of-13 from beyond the arc and finished with 12 of their favorite types of buckets. The Bears were long-range, medium and short-range shooters, taking 53% of their shots in a fiery display that should at least scare the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed and favorite to win it all, Gonzaga.
At least one boy is scared.
“That team right there scares me,” said TBS analyst Charles Barkley.
This could be a dream matchup. Baylor and Gonzaga were thought to be the No. 1 and No. 2 teams on the national team for the entire season, they were scheduled to play in December before a positive for COVID-19 canceled the game. The two coaches, Scott Drew of Baylor and Mark Few of Gonzaga, held a press conference after the game was canceled and then returned to the hotel together.
“Coach Few and I joked when the game was canceled: ‘If we end up playing this in the Final Four, it sounds like a better idea,'” recalls Drew.
In a meeting of arguably the best defense in the nation (Houston) and arguably the best offense in the nation (Baylor), the scorers prevailed.
MORE: Why Teague, Vital Are Foundation of Baylor’s Culture Change
It didn’t seem to matter who tried to shoot. They entered, one after another. A 17-foot pull-up from Jared Butler. A Davion Mitchell long-range bomb. A hook shot from Flo Thamba. Whistle. Whistle. Whistle.
They did it largely without the team’s second leading scorer. MaCio Teague, averaging 16 points per game, had just one point with 15 minutes to go in the second half. In fact, this seems to be Baylor’s approach.
Drew’s team can earn points from anyone anytime, anywhere. In four of the five NCAA tournament games, a different Baylor player has led the team in scoring: Teague vs. Hartford and Arkansas; Matthew Mayer, a bench player, against Wisconsin; and Adam Flagler, a transfer, vs. Villanova.
“That’s what we’ve done all year – feed the hot hand and share the ball,” says Drew.
Against Houston it was Butler, a Louisiana junior who started the game by blocking a shot, catching an offensive rebound, stealing a pass and sinking his first two 3-pointers. Butler scored 17 points, all in the second half. He and Drew were the last Bears left on the ground, hugging each other to end a COVID-like celebration: restrained and sometimes masked. More than 2,000 Bears fans roared from socially distant seats here at this goliath soccer stadium.
“BU! BU! BU, ”they chanted.
In his eighteenth season at Waco, the 50-year-old Drew has the Bears (27-2) the furthest the program has been since a loss to Kentucky and Adolf Rupp in the ’48 championship game. On his first trip To the men’s Final Four in 71 years, they passed a Cougars team that took a somewhat historic route here, becoming the first team to reach the national semifinals by beating four double-digit seeds.
Baylor isn’t the 11th seed. And, boy, did it prove it.
The Bears closed the first half on an 18-3 streak in the final six minutes for a 25-point lead at halftime, held at least a 16-point cushion the rest of the way and gave the Big 12 a spot in the final. for the second year in a row after six years without one.
“The ball went in,” Butler explains simply.
Drew’s offense was pretty great. The Bears made their first five shots of the game after the initial shot clock violation. A 13–8 lead quickly passed to 22–11 and then 38–17. The year-round Houston bugaboo, a steady offense, resurfaced. At one point, UH guard Marcus Sasser had 15 of the team’s 17 points, and everyone else was 1 of 11 from the court.
And so they continue in Monday’s championship showdown, fueled by stellar shots and two hefty guns in the 250-pound Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Mark Vital. This Baylor team is fun. Sure, he can bury you from deep inside, but while building a huge lead, like a football team milking the fourth quarter, he ran the ball, tossing it in to the big men for some easy buckets.
Finally, it appears that the Bears are playing as the team in December and January that started the season 18-0. A three-week hiatus caused by the virus, from February 2 to February. 23, made them look lazy on their return.
Perhaps they are finally taking shape again?
“If we’re not where we were, I can’t tell the difference,” Drew said.
The game clock reached zero. The horn buzzed. And the Baylor Bears were certainly entering the title game.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.