One of the greatest rebuilding stories in college basketball history has added another chapter: a Final Four.
Baylor, a program with just one men's NCAA tournament berth since 1950 before Scott Drew took over amid a scandal and NCAA punishments, is now headed to the Final Four. The Bears kept a feisty Arkansas team at arm’s length the entire way, leading from wire-to-wire to win the South Region.
The No. 1 seed Bears scored the game’s first seven points and forced an Arkansas timeout less than four minutes in with a quick 13–2 lead. And while foul trouble for star guard Davion Mitchell would slow a Baylor attack that at one point held a 29–11 lead in this one, the Hogs appeared to be hanging on for dear life against the 26–2 Bears. In the end, 9–2 first-half closing run by Eric Musselman’s club cut the deficit to a more manageable eight at the break.
While the Razorbacks continued to fight and keep things interesting, the Bears always seemed to have a timely answer. There were a few key drives to the basket by Mitchell to keep the Bears in control. Perhaps the biggest dagger: Arkansas veteran guard Jalen Tate had a good look to cut the deficit back to four with under five minutes to play, but the shot clanged off. A long rebound allowed Baylor to push in transition, and Mitchell found a wide-open MaCio Teague for a backbreaking three that extended the lead to nine. Arkansas would never seriously threaten after that.
Teague led all scorers with 22 points, but Mitchell was the engine that made the Bears go in this one. He posted 12 points and six assists, but was constantly active thanks to his quick first step and elite defensive instincts. Also critical: Baylor got 25 points from its bench, with strong contributions from Adam Flagler (10 points), Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (eight points, six rebounds) and Matthew Mayer (seven points, three steals).
Arkansas, a relatively young team that starts three freshmen and two graduate transfers, will rue the 15 turnovers it committed in this one. Those giveaways turned into 21 Baylor points, points the Razorbacks could ill afford to concede in a game of this magnitude. And while the Hogs had come back from double-figure deficits in each of their first three games in Indianapolis, they could never quite get over the hump against a team as talented and experienced as Baylor. Still, a trip to the second weekend of the men's NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years is impressive, particularly in just the second season of the Musselman era.
The Bears advance to take on Houston for a spot in the national championship game. Both programs have pulled off unthinkable turnarounds to bring once-moribund teams to the doorstep of a championship. The all-Texas battle will pit two teams that combined to lose just five games all season.
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