I started typing this as Kentucky went up 13 with just under 9 minutes to go in a game that was as free-flowing offensively as any I've ever seen at the college level. The two teams, Indiana and Kentucky, combined for 97 points in the first half alone-- that's only 4 less than Michigan State and Louisville scored in their entire game Thursday night-- and both went on to score more than 90 points each with Kentucky topping 100. I don't know the last time that happened in an NCAA Tournament game that didn't contain a seed 12 or above. We either just watched two absolutely masterful offensive teams or a game where both teams decided beforehand to just forego playing defense entirely. Either way, the #1-ranked and top overall seed Kentucky Wildcats will move on to the South Regional Finals to face our Baylor Bears.
For its part, Baylor earned its place in the Elite 8 by beating the Xavier Musketeers 75-70 in a game Baylor led at one point 22-4. The Bears positively stormed out of the gates, hitting 10 of their first 13 shots, before Xavier closed the gap significantly as time wound down in the first half. Xavier's big run seemed to be triggered by a flagrant 1 foul on Baylor PF Quincy Acy that netted the Musketeers, specifically C Kenny Frease, 4 points on one possession. I believe Baylor led by 16 at the time. When that run basically ended, Baylor led by 4.
The second half was much closer than the first, and Xavier managed to stay in the game despite horrific overall 3-point shooting by getting to the free throw line ten times more than Baylor and finally hitting three 3s when it seemed like Baylor might pull away. Baylor, which led by 13 with 2:23 to go, weathered Xavier's penultimate surge by hitting its last 8 free throws, including 4 in a row by Brady Heslip when the Musketeers whittled Baylor's lead to 3.
Overall, I'd say that Baylor showed its biggest flaws even in a historic win that sent the Bears to the second Elite 8 in program history. After scoring 22 points in the first 7 minutes of the game, Baylor scored 14 in the last 13. With Xavier blanketing Brady Heslip like he was actually on fire, Baylor went entire stretches in the second half where scoring points in a half-court set seemed like a chore. Chalk it up to good defense from Xavier, particularly on Heslip, and poor execution by Baylor, which, just for example, saw freshman Deuce Bello blow two alley-oops in a row and too often settled for outside shots rather than getting the ball into the paint.
Still, in the end Baylor got enough from undoubted MVP of the game Quincy Acy (20 points, 15 rebounds), whose Top Play-esque dunks gave Baylor the life it sorely needed, a startingly-efficient Perry Jones III, who added 14 points and 5 rebounds, and Pierre Jackson (16 points, 10 assists) to win a spot in the Elite 8 and wrap up a program-record 30th win of the season. Even I, a notorious pessimist, can't really find anything wrong with that, especially when it puts Baylor (and me) one win away from a trip to New Orleans and the Final 4.
The only problem is that the one win we need is going to have to come against the John Calipari's Wildcats, who look, to my inexperienced eyes, as good as any team I've seen in a long, long time. Even without a big game from Anthony Davis (7 points, 11 rebounds against Indiana), Kentucky still managed to score over 100 points on the backs of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (24 points, 10 rebounds), Doron Lamb (19 points), and Darius Miller (17 points). If they have an obvious hole, I have to be honest and say I don't know what it is. It might be their defense, which gave up 90+ to Indiana at least partially due to the tempo of the game, or the fact that they looked fairly mortal when Davis left the game in the first half with 2 fouls, but that's about it.
That's why they play the games, though, and we don't have to talk about how Baylor plans to beat them just yet. It's sufficient for now that they have to this Sunday afternoon. In the Elite 8. For a chance at the program's first Final 4 ever. Bring it on.
UPDATE: The game has been scheduled for 1:15 PM on Sunday afternoon on CBS.
In case you were curious about Kentucky's SBNation blog, A Sea of Blue seems to be quite active.