The No. 2 Baylor Bears (9-0) flattened the Villanova Wildcats in the Ferrell Center on a Sunday afternoon 57-36. James Akinjo led all scorers with 16 points, but the real star of the game was Baylor’s defensive effort. Villanova shot just 23%, with more turnovers (13) than made shots (12). Villanova scored just 21 points second half points after a season low 15 points in the first.
“First and foremost, the goal is at the end of the year to be No. 1…this would make us four times ranked No. 1 in the last six years…There’s 356 teams. It’s really hard to do.” — Coach Scott Drew
The atmosphere for this game was electric. The Ferrell Center was rocking from tip to finish, ready to roar at the hint of a defensive stop and for each Baylor basket. The intensity in the arena was the sort one would expect with a conference championship on the line, not a non-conference matchup in the waining days of the semester.
“Great college basketball atmosphere…Baylor is an outstanding defensive team. As physical tough and quick as any defense we’ve played against.” — Coach Jay Wright
Adam Flagler (10 points, 5 ast), who continues to struggle from outside, was able to find a rhythm getting into the paint down the stretch of the second half, putting the distance between Baylor and Villanova that the feel of the game demanded. He used the glass with aplomb, taking what the defense gave him.
Coming into the game, Baylor knew they needed to stop two things. Priority one was Collin Gillespie (6 points, 2-7 FG), the super senior leader of the Villanova team. Gillespie entered today’s matchup shooting nearly 45% from deep and turning the ball over just 1.3 turnovers per game. The second priority was running the Wildcats off the 3-point line, where they shoot 39% and account for nearly half of their points.
Scott Drew’s team executed that gameplay perfectly. Gillespie, a national champion who missed the NCAA Tournament last season, was completely erased by attentive doubles and smothering on-ball defense from anyone who happened the be in front of him. He was visibly frustrated with 5 minutes still remaining in the game, his team down 20 points. Gillespie was scoreless in the second half with just 6 points total on the day.
After the game, Jay Wright commented, “That team was great last year. This team is good and could be just as great. Tchatchoua and Thamba, the guards were great, but those two especially…those three bigs (including Mayer) can guard anyone on the perimeter.”
The first half opened with a Ferrell Center ready to roar to life at the merest glimmer of a defensive stop. Villanova turned the ball over on more possessions than they scored. The Wildcats shot just 5-24 with 7 turnovers. Gillespie tellingly had only 3 shot attempts, all desperate heaves from outside. To his credit, he hit two of them. The rest of his team? A measly 3-21. The passed up more shots than they made. Baylor had residency in Nova’s collective conscious. Nearing the end of the first half, after Thamba flew by on the block attempt right under the rim, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree blew the easy layup, leading to a Brown running layup on the other end. That 4-point swing might as well of been 10.
On the offensive end, Baylor had their own issues scoring the ball. Offensive fouls and poor passing out of the post wasted valuable scoring opportunities, and the ball too often stuck in the hands of the Baylor guards without the movement that has made Baylor such an offensive threat.
Not only were the Bears only 3-15 from three, they didn’t even attempt a single free throw. Those were indicative of Baylor’s difficulty getting anything going toward the rim. Baylor only manage 2 transition points, as well, the same ones from Brown mentioned just above.
Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua’s (7 pts, 9 rebs) defense was truly electric. He defended Villanova one through five, even finding himself on an island with Gillespie. Gillespie couldn’t do anything but toss up a prayer off the front iron. Tchamwa-Tchatchoua’s energy, intelligence, and communication continue to be the heartbeat of yet another elite Baylor defense.
Drew said of Tchamwa-Tchatchoua’s centrality to the defense: “Jon and Flo are everything. Without them, it makes it harder on everybody. They’ve both gotten a lot more vocal, calling things out defensively.”
Tchamwa-Tchatchoua’s and-1 slam with under a minute to go was the final exclamation point of the game.
To hold Villanova, a top five offensive team in the country, to fewer than 40 points in a game should put the entire country on notice that this year’s Baylor team is hungry to reach a second consecutive Final Four. Before today’s game, the Wildcats averaged nearly 1.18 points per possession. Today, they scored just 0.621. That’s nearly half their average scoring rate. They didn’t even reach half their average 79 points per game.
“For a second there, I didn’t know if offenses were off on Sunday, too.” — Coach Drew
On the eve of a likely No. 1 ranking, Flager summed up the team’s feelings on the possibility of being No. 1 after not being higher than No. 2 last season: “It’s exciting, but we honestly don’t really care. Like Coach Drew said, our goal is to be number one at the end, but we’re excited.”
Flagler also said they are now focused on Oregon, Baylor’s next opponent.