Today, Baylor was the team every Baylor fan hoped they would see in the NCAA Tournament. The defense was intense and connected, and the shooting was almost unstoppable. Baylor shot 47% from three and forced 14 turnovers from a Badgers team that averaged fewer than 10 per game.
Davion Mitchell was magnificent. His 16 points came on 6-8 shooting, including 2-3 from deep. His 8 assists were a game high, and they came from everywhere. Anytime Mitchell drive inside, it created lobs for Tchamwa-Tchatchoua, Vital, and Thamba, and threes for Butler, Teague, and Mayer. On the other end, he smothered his main assignment, Trice. Trice finished the game 5-17 from the field with 4 turnovers and never looked quite right.
Every great team has an X-factor, and Matthew Mayer is Baylor’s. Today, Mayer delivered the sort of game that makes Baylor nearly unbeatable. He scored at all three levels and defended at his highest level. The swing man finished with a game high 17 points along with 2 steals. When he can provide that high level of play off the bench, precious few teams can compete.
Baylor opened the second half on an 8-0 run, answered by a tough 6-0 run by Wisconsin. Wisconsin doubled down on playing big with Reuvers and Potter inside. Baylor has struggled at times against big frontlines. Two players of that caliber were bound to have moments against an undersized Bears squad. Baylor’s bet all season, though, has been they’ll defend just well enough and score so well that the other team can’t keep up.
When the Fival lineup entered the game, Wisconsin had closed what was an 18 point lead to 7. Immediately, Mitchell delivered 5 fast points, 2 from the line and 3 from an assist on a Mayer three.
Jared Butler (14 pts, 3 rebs, 2 ast) picked up his fourth foul with over 8 minutes remaining in the game, forcing him to sit while Flagler replaced him.
Wisconsin continued to grind away at the lead, despite scoring from Mayer on the other end. The Badgers continued to go inside and valued their possessions. They made smart cuts and set up their bigs to play one-on-one in the post. Micah Potter (10 pts, 10 rebs) smashed Vital and Tchatchoua inside. Only the scrambling help defense that came on key possessions disrupted his rhythm.
Mitchell, of course, came to the rescue by blowing by Davison and the rest of the Badgers. Wisconsin simply had no answer for Mitchell on either end except to keep the ball away from him. His speed, vision, and defense controlled the entire game.
Down the stretch, the game ground to a defensive slugfest. Wisconsin went over 4 minutes without a score, and Baylor simultaneously went 4 minutes without a field goal, offset by a few free throws.
When winning time came, Mitchell, Butler, and Mayer rose to the occasion down the stretch. Mitchell and Butler particularly closed the game beautifully. They didn’t turned the ball over in the clutch, they set up their teammates, and the hit their free throws. MaCio Teague (9 pts) and Adam Flagler (4 pts), both had opportunities to close the game down at the free throw line and converted.
In the first half, Baylor ripped off several stretches of the defensive intensity that was around before the COVID pause. Rotations were crisp and on time, no one reached, and Wisconsin couldn’t find an opening anywhere.
Mitchell’s first half defense was spectacular. In one sequence, he swiped the ball away at half court like he was picking up a box of cereal from the HEB shelf. His hit ahead to Butler pushed the lead to 10, and it symbolized a return to mid-season Baylor.
Every Baylor who entered the game in the first half scored. Each of Tchamwa-Tchatchoua and Vital threw down vicious lobs, and Thamba, too, was able to take advantage of the attention given to the guards. Mayer had a couple of athletic drives and a three. Flagler absolutely drained a last second bomb to push the lead to 13 as the halftime buzzer sounded.
Just after Loyola Chicago upset fellow No. 1 seed Illinois, Baylor must have felt they needed to come out with energy, especially against a team as capable as Wisconsin.
Baylor will face the winner of Villanova-North Texas in the Sweet Sixteen next week. Now that Baylor has the opportunity to practice and rest between games and get into the film room, the Bears ought to come into the next game totally locked in.