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Baylor basketball 2021 Baylor39;s Patience Pays Off as the Program39;s Final Four Breakthrough .

Baylor basketball 2021 Baylor39;s Patience Pays Off as the Program39;s Final Four Breakthrough .
arkansas basketball, uconn women’s basketball, Paige Bueckers, Baylor, baylor vs arkansas, arkansas vs baylor, Kim Mulkey

Baylor basketball 2021 Baylor39;s Patience Pays Off as the Program39;s Final Four Breakthrough .

Baylor basketball Baylor basketball Pays … Four Patience Breakthrough as Off Baylor's Final the Program's

Mon, 29 Mar 2021 19:00:00 -0700

One year after having their March Madness NCAA tournament chances stripped away, the Bears came back even better

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It’s hard to guess at what history looks and feels like until you see it.

It was the green and yellow confetti descending from the rafters of an only sort-of-full, oversized football stadium, onto a group of players and staff who had spent a long time imagining.

Baylor is headed to the Final Four, after a 81–72 handling of Arkansas that was never all that much in doubt, the tone set by a high-scoring first half in which the Bears were slightly outshot yet ran out to a double-digit lead.

It was close, but never uncomfortable, the work of an experienced team unwilling to miss a moment.

It had already passed them by once.

Baylor’s first Final Four trip since 1950? That was supposed to happen a year ago.

The Bears were 26–4 before the pandemic ended a watershed season.

When you’ve waited 70 years, what’s another, right? But any college team might tell you, this one has felt that much longer.

Twelve months ago, Baylor’s story might have centered on the long, long rebirth cycle of a once-broken program, racked by unthinkable scandal.

And that’s what just happened.

But hey, a lot of other stuff has happened since.

Continuity is a popular buzzword in college basketball, typically used to describe teams willing to grow old together, and those fortunate enough to coach them.

Really, what it points to is stability in the face of change, and how rare it can be.

Roles shift, players come and go and individual skill sets evolve, as is wont to happen in the sport’s landscape.

The best coaches figure out how make those little fragments whole again.

Scott Drew has ridden out the wave in Waco for 17 years, all for this strange Final Four trip, which now consists of a simple bus ride to the hotel and back.

Drew has been to the cusp, falling short twice to eventual champions Duke and Kentucky with Elite Eight losses in 2010 and 2012.

He’s weathered first-round upsets and some NIT trips (and, since we’re here, won an NIT championship).

He’s now the back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year.

But Baylor has come this far due in large part to his earnest, aw-shucks, midwestern countenance—and his unusual laissez-faire trust in a group that’s followed suit.

MORE: Houston, Baylor Pave Way for a New Kind of Final Four Underdog

“I think he connects [with] us because he cares about us.

When I first got here, I was honestly unsure about the guy,” says MaCio Teague, largely unable to contain a grin, a piece of net hastily knotted over the clasp of his backward cap.

“College basketball players will tell you this: when you get recruited, coaches, they kind of switch up when you get to a school.

It's like they show you all the good stuff …when you get to the school, they're not really catering to you as much and things like that.

“I was kind of iffy about it when I got here.

But as time went on I truly understood that Coach Drew truly cares about his players,” Teague continues.

“He asks you how you're doing.

Like, he tries to get to know players.

He tries to keep the connection … he knows that the leaders of the team are an extension of him on the floor.

He tries to build trust and a relationship.

It’s not just for basketball.”

What Drew built last season has come back to him in spades.

Four Baylor starters returned to double down on the foundation they’ve laid together.

Unexpected changes could have borne out much differently.

All four have sacrificed.

The Bears may not be here without Davion Mitchell’s evolution from defensive specialist into a two-way dynamo, a bonafide closer and a pro prospect.

As his role has grown, he's also had to figure out how to make plays and defer within the offense.

That development was made possible by a patient Jared Butler, who through no fault of his own, has gone from All-American star to one of his team’s many faces.

Fiery Mark Vital has poured as much effort as ever into a role that’s quietly dwindled, with the emergence of Matthew Mayer as a more potent scoring threat.

Teague is always the third or fourth name you hear within this context.

Many on the Bears’ staff credit him as the player whose quiet leadership has birthed a culture shift upon arrival from UNC-Asheville.

Naturally, it was Teague who led the team in shots and finished with 22 points on Tuesday.

FORDE: Back in Indiana, Kelvin Sampson Rises Again

“Individually, it's one thing to get better.

It's another thing then to sacrifice for the team, because when you're a good player, you feel like, I can make this shot, or I can get by my man, or I can do this,” Drew says.

“Because you've put in the work, and you want to show what you worked on.” Drew pointed to his team’s 17 assists and nine turnovers as evidence.

“But my guys have been so unselfish … when we’re at our best, they’re sacrificing for each other, and all year, that’s why we’ve won.”

The game itself wasn’t quite balletic, featuring two teams that combined for 39 fouls.

As Drew put it on his off day, “There’s method to the madness of what both [teams] do.” The chaos was going to be somebody’s one-way ticket.

Both sides harped on ball security coming in.

Baylor won the turnover battle, nine to 15.

Arkansas had trailed by double-digits in each of its three tourney wins.

It got within four with 10 minutes left.

There was no comeback.

For 40 minutes, the Razorbacks never once led.

“When one of us makes a mistake,” Drew says, “we admit it and we move on.

And everybody stays together.

Stays positive.

And at the end of the day they believe in each other and when you have a team that does that you have a chance to be special.

“It’s not our first time in the fire,” Teague says.

More lies ahead, a Texas-shaped Final Four matchup with Houston now looming.

Baylor won’t look past it, or won’t admit to it if the Bears do.

We all know how this goes: everyone else will talk this part of the talk for them.

A much-hyped prize fight with No.

1 Gonzaga—set to take place here in Indianapolis—was Moonlight Grahamed off the schedule by COVID-19 concerns back in December.

Now, it’s a possible well-scripted ending for the biggest trophy of all.

But this isn’t about that team from Spokane, not yet.

It shouldn’t be.

Well, it still might be.

At least let Baylor have a couple days first.

If there’s one thing the Bears—and everyone else—should have figured out by now, it’s how to wait.

SI’s tournament newsletter analyzes everything you need to know about the Big Dance: what just happened and what’s happening next.

Sign up for Morning Madness here.

One year after having their postseason chances stripped away, the Bears came back even better.

The men’s Final Four may wind up chalky by seeding, but there’s nothing typical about the Bears and Cougars reaching it.

Kelvin Sampson was supposed to be cutting down nets for Indiana.

Instead, he’s back in the Hoosier state leading Houston to the Final Four.

Mitchell and Teague’s big nights helped the Bears shoot their way past the Razorbacks in the Elite Eight.

Freshman Paige Bueckers led UConn to the Final Four with a 28-point effort against Baylor.

The Huskies are on to the Final Four—again—despite getting pushed to the limit by the Lady Bears.

Wildcats guard Aari McDonald led all scorers with 33 points in Arizona’s 12-20 victory over Indiana on Monday night.

Mulkey: “Wouldn’t it be a shame to keep COVID testing and then you got kids that end up having tested positive.

…and they don’t get to play in the Final Four.”

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Baylor basketball Baylor basketball

Mon, 29 Mar 2021 19:00:00 -0700

As Baylor's players grabbed and threw green and yellow confetti into the air, the celebration reached its apex

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What once seemed unthinkable became reality as 

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Baylor’s headed to the Final Four!

As Baylor’s players grabbed and threw green and yellow confetti into the air, the celebration reached its apex.

What once seemed unthinkable became reality as Monday became Tuesday in Indianapolis: Baylor basketball is going to the Final Four.

The Bears are headed there for the first time since 1950.

Baylor was easily one of the country’s top two teams from the beginning of the season through a double-digit victory over Texas in Austin.

Then COVID-19 struck over half the players, forcing a 21 day pause.

The Bears finished the regular season 5-2 and Big 12 Champions.

Though Baylor wasn’t quite the same during that stretch.

Once they returned, the Bears weren’t the same on defense.

Drew said afterwards that, “you see your defense go from one to three to five to 12 to 20 and eventually got to 44.

And once we lost to Oklahoma State, I believe in that game we only got two or three stops in the last eight minutes of the game.” Just isolating that seven game stretch, per Torvik, Baylor ranked 190th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Baylor knew it had to improve on that.

In the first half, Baylor tested that proposition while the offense seemed capable of carrying whatever the defense provided.

For 12 minutes, Baylor scored over two points per possession.

Arkansas would have been better off surrendering dunks.

The Razorbacks did that plenty of times.

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Matthew Mayer slammed it down.

The Razorbacks faced the impossible task of defending a Baylor offense with more weapons than NATO.

The Razorbacks answered though.

Davion Mitchell, the South Region’s most outstanding player, picked up his third foul in the first half.

He finished the half at +16, but Arkansas cut the deficit to eight at the break.

Eventually everyone starts missing shots.

Baylor ranks as the country’s top 3-point shooting team.

Yet that didn’t mean Baylor would make everything.

The Bears started struggling from the field and Arkansas pulled within four with 6:50 left.

It felt like maybe the Muss Bus had a little more fuel to get Arkansas past Baylor.

The ghost of Baylor not holding a five point second half lead against Duke in the 2010 Elite Eight loomed.

Then Baylor turned it up defensively.

Baylor held Hartford to a catastrophic .71 adjusted points per possession in Lucas Oil Stadium to open this tournament.

It then held Wisconsin and Villanova below one point per possession.

That same defense emerged in the second half.

Arkansas scored just one point per possession in the second half.

Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, a man that didn’t score five points a game as a freshman at UNLV, drew a charge and blocked a shot.

The Bears held Arkansas to one point for the next four minutes.

Offense remains necessary to win championships, and Macio Teague provided it.

Despite starting 0-of-4 from three, Teague swished two triples with Arkansas down six points with six minutes remaining.

Multiple people inside the program raved about Teague’s work to perfect his shooting motion over the last few months, and it paid off in the biggest moment of Baylor’s season.

Suddenly Arkansas found themselves trailing by 11.

They’d never threaten again.

I asked Teague about those two threes after the game.

He said, “You know, my teammates there they kept finding me.

I think two possessions before that, Jared, he drove baseline, looked to (indiscernible) and looked to me in the corner — looked the opposing player off and threw it to me in the corner.

And I shot it and I missed it.

When I was running down the floor, I remember my teammate saying “good shot” — I can’t remember who it was who said, ‘good shot, shoot it again.’ So I got another opportunity, they found me, and I hit it.

And I saw, when Davion drove, I saw him look at me before he drove, to see where the defense was going to be.

And he found me and I knocked another one down.

So the credit goes to those guys for keeping faith in me.”

Baylor wouldn’t have won this game without every player in the rotation.

Adam Flagler notched four steals.

When Baylor seemed incapable of slowing down Arkansas, Flagler stepped in to give Baylor transition chances.

A former Presbyterian player, he might be the best player on next year’s Baylor team.

But he was pretty special tonight, adding 10 points and a final three that left Arkansas not even attempting to foul late.

The list of big moments from everyone in the rotation could stretch on.

When Mitchell picked up his third foul in the first half, Jared Butler steadied the offense, scoring 11 first half points.

Mark Vital had a tip-in dunk late that stopped an Arkansas run, and Flo Thamba hit a pair of shots near the rim before the shot clock expired.

Mitchell proved too much offensively in the second half.

He finished with 10 points in the period, as Baylor worked to force an Arkansas big man to guard him.

Regardless of defender, he found his way to the hoop.

Mitchell moves left faster than a Democratic candidate in a Vermont primary.

Or as Jalen Tate said after the contest, “That, Davion Mitchell is one of the fastest guys I’ve ever guarded, especially this year.

He’s a tough cover.

You could tell they’re a completely different team on both sides of the ball.

He’s a facilitator for them as well as just their anchor defensively.”

Baylor certainly has the best team in program history.

But in this single elimination format, nothing is guaranteed.

The Elite Eight has been the graveyard of national championship caliber teams, perhaps most recently exemplified by Zion Williamson’s Duke team.

Tonight Baylor had every answer.

This is also a testament to the program and culture built by Scott Drew.

He took over a program so devastated by scandal that the NCAA precluded non-conference games in his third season.

Baylor’s history from 1951 to Drew taking over was a 1988 NCAA Tournament berth.

To go from a history so scant to one that features an outright Big 12 title—despite playing five fewer games than some Big 12 teams—and a Final Four, is nothing short of miraculous.

When Drew was asked if he ever had second thoughts about coming here, he said, “No, I prayed about it.

I felt led to come here.

I really believed in the vision of the school, from the president and the administrators during that time and what they wanted Baylor to continue to grow and become.”

These men had a chance to not be here.

Jerome Tang is quite clearly the best lead assistant in the country, and should be leading his own program next season.

John Jakus has been a leading offensive mind and powered teams for years.

And Alvin Brooks is one of the architects in Baylor’s suffocating defense, and a power player in recruiting.

Tang mentioned earlier this season this is the best staff he’s ever been part of, and if the athletic departments at major American universities are worth the exorbitant salaries they command, the assistants should all be leading their own teams soon too.

All of them will tell you that players win championships, and that’s undoubtedly true.

A cadre of other programs aren’t facing the ire of the NCAA because they can find better set plays with the shoe money Adidas and Nike flowed on programs.

But that’s not the case here.

The Bears are made up of under-recruited men and transfers.

None ranked in the top 50 nationally.

Teague, tonight’s leading scorer, started at UNC-Asheville because nobody thought he could play at a power six school.

Mitchell rode the bench as a freshman at Auburn and looked for a new start in Waco.

He will likely be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.

Butler went from outside the top 75 as a recruit to the first unanimous All-American at Baylor.

Unselfishness describes this program.

As he basked in the victory, Teague noted, “It means a tremendous amount to me but even more to the program.

No person is bigger than the program.

What we did was history here.

Really happy for Coach Drew.

He’s been here for 18 years.”

The Bears have achieved so much already.

Four of these starters played on last year’s team that won 23 consecutive games—the longest streak ever for a Big 12 team.

The Bears don’t need much of a winning streak now.

Two more wins and Baylor wins the national title.

A good Houston team awaits next Saturday in Indianapolis.

But after the game Eric Musselman said, “Baylor’s a really, really good team.

They’re the best team that we’ve played this year.” If the Bears keep playing like this, they have a good shot to end the season as the best team anyone plays.

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– March 30, 2021
arkansas basketball, uconn women’s basketball, Paige Bueckers, Baylor, baylor vs arkansas, arkansas vs baylor, Kim Mulkey

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