When Scott Drew left Valparaiso 18 years ago to take on a seemingly impossible rebuilding job at Baylor, his goal was to develop a program that would “have an opportunity to play in March.”
Now, his top-seeded and third-ranked Bears (26-2) get to play in April. Earning its first Final Four berth in 71 years, Baylor survived a rally by an Arkansas team that had made habit of miraculous comebacks and defeated its former Southwest Conference rival, 81-72, in the South Region final at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“Just pure joy, excitement,” said Drew, whose team broke through the Elite Eight barrier after losing to eventual national champions Duke and Kentucky, respectively, in the 2010 and 2012 region finals. “Seeing our guys having a chance to cut down the net and celebrate, doesn’t get much better than that come March.”
MaCio Teague hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a late 10-1 run and finished with a game-high 22 points, helping the Bears hold off yet another comeback from a team that had faced double-digit deficits in each of its first three tournament games.
“What we did was history here,” Teague said. “I’m really happy for Coach Drew. He’s spent a lot of time, dedication, hard work, blood, sweat and tears building this program.”
Baylor advances to its first Final Four since the 1950 team defeated BYU in an eight-team tournament after losing to Kentucky two years earlier in the national championship game at Madison Square Garden. The Bears will face another former Southwest Conference-rival Houston (28-3) in Saturday’s national semifinals in the first-ever Final Four matchup of Texas schools.
“I just want to give Baylor a ton of credit,” said Arkansas coach Eric Musselman, whose team finished 25-7 with its first trip to the Elite Eight in 26 years. “They played phenomenal tonight, especially offensively. Our locker room gave us all they could, just came up empty. We’ve had a great two months, played at a very high level. But tonight, you just have to give Baylor credit. They’re a really good team.”
The way they started, it looked like the Bears had somewhere to go, hitting six of their first eight shots to go up 13-2 and stretching it to 29-11 on a Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua free throw with 11:01 left in the first half.
“I thought it showed how focused and ready to play we were,” Drew said. “And we got great looks, guys made good shots. Arkansas is a great team. We knew they’d make a run, and they did. And credit our guys for having an answer. But, I really thought we were focused from the jump and really had a good game plan.”
What helped the Razorbacks get back in it was when Baylor junior point guard Davion Mitchell picked up his third foul on a charge with 8:21 left in the first half. They made eight of their next 10 shots and trailed by just eight, 46-38, at the half.
“I thought it was really crucial in that first half when Davion picked up his third foul . . . that we were able to have a lead. That was important,” Drew said. “The second half, we knew they were going to make a run at us, because that’s what they do. That’s what any team in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight will do. They’re well-coached and they don’t want to go home, either.”
Even after JD Notae fouled out with 13:38 left, Arkansas got it down to four points and had two shots at making it a one-possession game. But, the Razorbacks went over eight minutes without a field goal and didn’t have an answer for Teague’s 3-point barrage.
“When Davion drove, I saw him look at me before he drove, to see where the defense was going to be,” said Teague, who hit 3-of-7 from outside the arc and 8-of-18 overall. “He found me, and I knocked another one down. So, the credit goes to those guys for keeping faith in me.”
Baylor’s four-guard rotation all scored in double figures, with Jared Butler adding 14 points and five assists; Mitchell getting 12 points and six assists despite playing limited minutes because of foul trouble; and Adam Flagler icing it with four-straight free throws to finish with 10 points.
“Our guys were really selfish. We had 17 turnovers, nine turnovers,” Drew said. “When we are at our best, everyone sacrifices for each other. And this year, that’s why we’ve won. Their character is impeccable. As good a players as they are, they’re better people. . . . I know our university is extremely proud of them in the way they sacrifice for each other. That’s obviously why we’re still playing.”
Freshman Moses Moody was just 2-of-10 overall and 0-for-4 from 3-point range, scoring 10 of his 11 points in the second half, while Davonte “Devo” Davis had a team-high 14 points after hitting the game-winner in the Razorbacks’ 72- 70 victory over ORU in the region semifinal.
Following a familiar pattern, Baylor got 21 points off Arkansas’ 15 turnovers and finished with a 25-16 edge in bench points.
“I think we’ve played better games,” Teague said, “but as long as we continue to win, that’s all that matters to us. We’ve got to get better going forward, going into our next game Saturday against Houston, a tough team. We just look forward to that matchup.”