Indianapolis, Indiana- After Loyola eviscerated No. 1 seed Illini earlier today, the Bears had to know nothing is guaranteed as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But behind a spectacular performance from Matthew Mayer, the Bears are headed to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time since 2010.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua picked up two quick fouls. He added a third with 7:51 left. Those calls were tough for Baylor, but the officials called a tight game today. With Tchamwa Tchatchoua headed to the bench, the Bears inserted Mayer. Scott Drew said after, “Well, Matt was huge with Jon in foul trouble, and again, you’ve got to have depth and you’ve got to have multiple scorers.” The Bears ended up getting stops on 6-of-7 possessions to end the half and thanks to a nice pass from Davion Mitchell to Adam Flagler, hit a buzzer beating three to lead by 13 at the half.
Mayer came alive offensively in the second half. He scored nine of his 17 points in the period. While Wisconsin made a run to pull within seven, Mayer hit a big three to eliminate the kind of pressure that makes one or two plays capable of ending the season. Texas learned last night that eventually enough close games will end your season.
Two other times when Wisconsin pulled within single digits, Mayer added a bucket. Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said, “ But I even thought the difference today was Mayer, the plays he made off the bench. When they needed baskets in the second half, he answered for them.”
Wisconsin elected to primarily play drop pick-and-roll coverage. I asked Mitchell about that alignment, and he said, “It was definitely similar to Illinois’. They dropped coverages, something that we love to see. We kind of got used to it. We used to do it in practice. We had to switch it up a little bit, so we just tried to take advantage of what the defense gave us, and we did great today.” That coverage led to a bevy of Baylor buckets in the first half. In the second half, Wisconsin dropped again, and Mayer hit Mark Vital for a dunk. Wisconsin would never seriously threaten again.
Perhaps Mayer’s most impressive skill in Hinkle was his defensive play in the second half. Wisconsin cut the lead to seven, and D’Mitrik Trice started hitting tough shots. The Bears had Mayer in, and he switched ball screens. That left him covering Wisconsin’s senior guard. But he forced Trice into three tough jump shots. He missed all of them. Gard said, “The defensive pressure of Baylor. They went small and were switching everything and made it really hard to be able to get to where we wanted to get to. So that was — I’ll give credit to Baylor for getting us out of what we wanted to do.”
The Badgers wanted to go big, but they couldn’t stay that way. The Badgers had a size advantage, but with Mayer hanging out around the perimeter, Gard said, “When they came back with Mayer, it obviously made it a lot harder to do that.”
Mayer finished with 17 points, six rebounds and two steals. Maybe the Bears still win without Mayer’s performance today. The strength of the 2021 Bears is that the team can survive rough stretches from key players. Davion Mitchell is a supreme defender. Jared Butler can run off eight points quickly and MaCio Teague has been Baylor’s best scorer since the return. Someone from that trio is virtually guaranteed to have a big night, which means anyone else stepping up makes Baylor to tough to beat for even most teams in this tournament.
The Bears have depth that makes them nearly unstoppable. Wisconsin hit 8-of-17 threes before garbage time. Despite that hot shooting, Wisconsin never made it that close. The Badger faithful cheered loudly in the reduced capacity crowd. They couldn’t will their team to a level Baylor hit, and Wisconsin can’t.
With Tchamwa Tchatchoua rolling so well, Flagler back to what he was before the pause and Thamba providing some real moments now, the Bears are clearly back as the real challenger to Gonzaga’s path to the first undefeated season since 1976. And if Mayer plays like he did this round, Baylor will win every round.