The Baylor Bears will play for a National Championship after a dominant showing in the Final Four, drubbing Houston 78-59.
Jared Butler played his first complete offensive game of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 17 points in the first half, which for a stretch matched Houston’s total score. Butler has shot poorly from outside all Tourney. In the first half he was 4-5 from deep. He also slung a few beautiful cross-court passes to find shooters in the corner and dimmed Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua with some sweet pocket passes. The victory shot — just before both teams inserted their deep bench players — was a Butler-Tchatchoua pick and roll in which Tchatchoua slipped the screen, received the pocket pass from Butler, and fired the pass into the waiting hands of MaCio Teague. Bucket. Butler didn’t score again in the second half, but he controlled the pace of play beautifully. If Butler plays anything like this on Monday, Gonzaga (or UCLA!) will be in trouble.
That’s how it was all game. Baylor put on a passing showcase. They found cutters, rollers, and shooters on every possession. There were no bad shots tonight. The Bears had 23 assists on 29 makes and 5 double-digit scorers. Nearly 4 of 5 Baylor makes were assisted.
No one was dishing more than Davion Mitchell, who recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists. His speed was, again, unguardable. Houston was intent on bringing the big to defend his drives at the rim. Mitchell was content to find Tchatchoua, Mark Vital, and Matthew Mayer cutting to the basket. On the other end, Mitchell contained the drive, pestered as a secondary defender, and contested jumpers like his life depended on it. Houston’s leading scorer this season, Quinten Grimes, had 0 points in the first half. Mitchell wasn’t the only guard on him, but he absolutely bottled the Cougar star when they were matched up.
Baylor’s bench also had a staring role in this dominant performance. Baylor’s bench scored 32 points. Twelve points came from Mayer in only 19 minutes. Eleven came from Tchatchoua. Those two flashed athleticism and aggression that no one in red could match. Two points even came from Mark Paterson on a sweet fall away in garbage time. Not even Houston’s starters could keep up. Hardly a surprise for the best bench in the country.
Houston’s lone bright spot in the first half came from Marcus Sasser, who had 17 of Houston’s 20 first half points on 5-8 shooting from three. His first make came after two consecutive offensive rebounds by the Cougars and seemed to presage what was to come for the Bears. Not so much. While Houston managed to total 14 offensive rebounds by game’s end, they had just 5 in the first half. Two came on the first possession. For the last 19 minutes of the first half, Baylor controlled the glass and limited Houston’s opportunities. That was the major concern headed into this matchup, and Baylor rose to the challenge.
Baylor is in the national championship game. Savor it. Monday will come, and the Bears will have to face down, possibly, one of the greatest teams in college basketball. Should Baylor play then like they did tonight, that will be one heck of a championship game.