NewsUS

Baylor Basketball 2021 Brice Cherry. Baylor basketball fans experience day of heartache .

Baylor Basketball 2021 Brice Cherry. Baylor basketball fans experience day of heartache .
arkansas basketball, uconn women’s basketball, Paige Bueckers, baylor women’s basketball, Baylor, baylor vs arkansas, arkansas vs baylor, Kim Mulkey

Baylor Basketball 2021 Brice Cherry. Baylor basketball fans experience day of heartache .

Baylor Basketball Baylor Basketball day basketball heartache of … Baylor Cherry: fans Brice experience

Mon, 29 Mar 2021 18:00:00 -0700

The Baylor Bears players celebrate after winning their Elite 8 game against Arkansas on Monday night in Indianapolis

.

Darron Cummings

.

The Baylor Bears players celebrate after winning their Elite 8 game against Arkansas on Monday night in Indianapolis.

On a day dubbed the biggest in Baylor basketball history, the school’s fans experienced the full gamut of emotions.

Remember that Pixar film “Inside Out?” The one that illustrates all the emotions in the brain, manipulating their person’s feelings from a giant control center? For Baylor fans, it was like they collectively smashed all the buttons at once.

Frustration, terror, glee, anger, happiness, disgust, surprise, joy, bitterness, euphoria.

Raise your Bear paw if that describes your night.

What a memorable Dia del Ocho this was.

(Hat tip to Lady Bears beat writer Chad Conine for that beauty.) Baylor was the only school in the country with both its men’s and women’s basketball teams playing in the Elite Eight, and was looking to send both on to the Final Four.

And almost did.

They were one whistle away.

SAN ANTONIO — With its ultimate warrior on the bench with an injury, the Baylor Lady Bears continued to fight to the end.

Let’s just be real.

The Baylor-UConn squabble could have really been the national championship game.

That’s not necessarily an indictment of the selection committee — you can justify their thinking in slotting Baylor as a 2 seed.

But (especially motivated) teams also play above their seed line every year, and the Lady Bears ravaged their first three tournament foes with such ruthless efficiency that they looked every bit like a No.

1 team.

Yeah, I know Baylor needed overtime to get past Michigan in the Sweet 16.

But the Lady Bears still demonstrated the gritty, psyche-melting defense that has been a hallmark of the program’s previous three national titles.

Plus, when your best player NaLyssa Smith doesn’t miss a shot — as was the case against the Wolverines — that qualifies as both ruthless and efficient in my book.

(She also plays a mean air guitar.

Eddie Van Halen would have been proud.)

UConn guard Paige Bueckers celebrates the team’s win over Baylor in the Elite 8 on Monday night.

Baylor-UConn was the game everyone wanted to see.

Remember, we should’ve been treated to a soft opening of this matchup — not that anything about a Geno Auriemma-coached or Kim Mulkey-led team could be classified as soft — back in January.

But COVID-19 interrupted those plans.

Ah, but who needs the trailer when the actual movie is this whiz-bang good?

It was a regional final worthy of a national final, indeed.

What more could a game offer? Both delivered their trademark rugged defense.

In fact, Baylor’s aggressiveness in contesting (and blocking a bunch of them) UConn’s shots kept the Lady Bears in the game early on.

Plenty of players on both sides embraced the glare of the spotlight.

UConn’s baby-faced guard Paige Bueckers more than lived up to her “Paige Buckets” moniker.

For Baylor, DiJonai Carrington extended the program’s recent tradition of tapping into a gold mine of grad transfers.

Her impact on this one was longer than her flowing locks.

It was as intense and hotly contested a game as you could ever hope to see.

That it came down to a controversial finish is a shame, because it was one of those games where nobody really deserves to lose, especially in such a fashion.

Baylor guard DiJonai Carrington is guarded by UConn forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa (left) and forward Aaliyah Edwards on a call at the end of the game.

Here’s the thing about that play: Yes, Carrington got fouled on her final shot.

She should have had a chance to shoot some free throws and potentially win the game for Baylor.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow if you’re a Lady Bear fan.

But, in the moment, in real time (which is how things happen), the foul was far less apparent.

(At least to me, watching on television.) It took multiple viewings to see that Carrington indeed absorbed contact.

And, ideally, in that situation, you’d like to get a better look at the basket than a driving-left, pull-up jumper over two of UConn’s biggest players.

Late-game situations rarely play out in perfectly ideal sequences, however.

Chaos is the norm.

I get that’s going to feel like little consolation for anyone associated with Baylor.

They’re going to feel jobbed.

After the game when asked about the “controversial” ending, Carrington matter-of-factly responded, “I personally don’t see it as a controversial call.

… One girl fouled me on my face and one girl fouled me on the arm.”

Also, interestingly enough, Geno Auriemma’s daughter Alysa tweeted that it should’ve been a foul on UConn.

To be fair, she also retweeted a former Huskie player who said, “Things I was taught: Never let it be close enough that the refs can decide the outcome.”

It’s also fair to wonder what might’ve been for Baylor had DiDi Richards not pulled up awkwardly late in the third quarter.

DiDi’s defense, her savvy leadership as Baylor’s floor general, proved critical for the Lady Bears.

Injuries happen, and they always suck, no matter which team suffers them.

Sometimes, like in Baylor’s 2019 NCAA championship win when Lauren Cox went down, you’re able to withstand them.

Other times you’re not.

You couldn’t help but agonize for DiDi, considering all she’s been through this season.

If the sight of her crying on the bench doesn’t melt your heart, you’ve got something in common with the Tin Man.

But if you’re a Lady Bears fan, you should also walk away satisfied, as strange as that may be to think.

Your team fought with gusto, as usual.

In college, teams tend to absorb the identity of their head coach.

And I assure you, Mulkey is one coach with whom you don’t want to pick a fight.

INDIANAPOLIS — Seventy-one years after its last Final Four appearance, Baylor blew out of the gate like it couldn’t wait to get back.

As for the Bears, theirs was also a night filled with angst, but ultimately with elation.

Baylor ripped out to an 18-point lead in the early stages of the first half, and it appeared these elitists would turn the regional final party into a comedy routine.

A real laugher, even.

Arkansas had other ideas.

Have you ever tried to ‘rassle a Hog? They don’t particularly enjoy being pinned down.

(Or so I’ve been told by hog hunters.) These Razorbacks showed remarkable resiliency.

They were athletic and feisty, and they mucked up the proceedings enough to get back in the game.

Baylor’s Davion Mitchell (left) and Mark Vital celebrate after beating Arkansas 81-72 in the Elite 8.

Baylor persevered, and it did so by being Baylor.

(How good does that sound, Bear fans?) That is, the Bears made clutch perimeter shots and they made life just stressful enough for the Hogs on the defensive end.

MaCio Teague, Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell, Adam Flagler.

If you can name four better guards in all of the country, then they’re playing on some NBA team.

Probably the Brooklyn Nets.

As the game ended, the velvet-toned Jim Nantz punctuated the moment by saying, “It’s been a long time coming: The Baylor Bears are back in the Final Four for the first time in 71 years!”

Baylor head coach Scott Drew waves to fans after an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

Baylor won, 81-72.

What sweet, sweet words if you’re a Baylor fan.

How could anyone not be happy for Scott Drew? The guy took a job nobody wanted and turned Waco into one of the most desirable destinations in the country, long before Chip and Jo started their own fixer-upper project.

What a wild night.

One Baylor team’s season ends, the other’s will continue.

One experienced a major breakthrough, the other will have to wait another year to try to add to its lustrous legacy.

You saw (and felt) it all, Bear backers.

But at the end of the (long) day, you should have left feeling one emotion above all.

Pride.

Baylor players celebrate with the trophy after an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Baylor won 81-72.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor players celebrate after an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Baylor won 81-72.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor players celebrate after an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Baylor won 81-72.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor head coach Scott Drew waves to fans after an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Baylor won 81-72.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) looks to the scoreboard during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Baylor in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

Baylor won 81-72.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) celebrates beating Arkansas 81-72 after an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor celebrates after beating Arkansas 81-72 during an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) and Mark Vital (11) celebrate after beating Arkansas 81-72 during an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Tuesday, March 30, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) dunks against Baylor during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor head coach Scott Drew watches against Arkansas during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor head coach Scott Drew reacts to a play against Arkansas during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) shoots on Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Desi Sills (3) drives past Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) dunks against Arkansas during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) drives on Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, left, shoots ahead of Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) shoots over Baylor guard Adam Flagler, left, during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman watches against Baylor during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Adam Flagler, left, drives up court ahead of Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard Jalen Tate, center, passes around Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) drives on Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard JD Notae drives to the basket ahead of Baylor guard MaCio Teague, rear, during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) shoots on Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) and Flo Thamba (0) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) shoots in front of Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Desi Sills, right, grabs a rebound over Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) drives to the basket over Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman reacts during the first half of an Elite 8 game against Baylor in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) drives to the basket ahead of Arkansas guard Davonte Davis, left, 1during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) scrambles for a loose ball with Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) shoots on Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Desi Sills (3) dunks against Baylor during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) shoots over Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) drives around Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Matthew Mayer, left, shoots over Arkansas guard Moses Moody during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) steals a pass from Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) protects the ball from Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams, left, fights for a loose ball with Baylor guard Jared Butler during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell, right, is fouled by Arkansas guard Jalen Tate (11) 1during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman watches against Baylor during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman sits on the bench during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Baylor in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas forward Justin Smith, right, tries to steal the ball from Baylor forward Flo Thamba during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard JD Notae, center, shoots over Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) and forward Flo Thamba (0) during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell, right, drives on Arkansas forward Justin Smithduring the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas fans cheer during the second half of an Elite 8 game between Baylor and Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell drives to the basket ahead of Arkansas guard JD Notae (1) during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Moses Moody, center, looks to pass between Baylor guard Matthew Mayer, left, and forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, right, during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Matthew Mayer, left, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) try to steal the ball from Arkansas guard Moses Moody, center, during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, celebrates with teammate guard Adam Flagler (10) during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10), Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) and Matthew Mayer (24) celebrate a play against Arkansas during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) tries to get past Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) and forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas guard Moses Moody, center, and teammate guard Jalen Tate (11) battle for a loose ball with Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) drives on Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) as MaCio Teague (31) looks on during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) questions a call with a referee during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Baylor in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman watches from the sideline during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Baylor in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) drives on Arkansas guard Jalen Tate, left, during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) passes between Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) and 1guard Davion Mitchell (45) during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard MaCio Teague celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard MaCio Teague celebrates after making a 3-point basket during the second half of an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) shoots on Arkansas guard Moses Moody (5) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams (10) shoots as Baylor guard MaCio Teague (31) looks on during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams (10) drives on Baylor guard Mark Vital (11) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) reacts to a play at a timeout during the first half of an Elite 8 game against Arkansas in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) dunks on Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams (10) shoots over Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) shoots on Arkansas forward Jaylin Williams (10) and Jalen Tate (11) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman watches against Baylor during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) shoots over Arkansas forward Justin Smith (0) during the first half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis.

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A lifelong rider of the Houston sports bandwagon and a lifelong hater of vegetables, Brice Cherry has been named the Texas AP sportswriter of the year several times during his Trib career, which began in 1998.

He has been sports editor since 2012.

{{description}}

Email notifications are only sent once a day, and only if there are new matching items.

.

Baylor Basketball Baylor Basketball

Mon, 29 Mar 2021 18:00:00 -0700

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

.

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.

This summer, the Argentine great will be leaving Manchester City, where he’s left an indelible impact and secured his legacy.

Not so smart, after all.

The start of the new league year is typically busy season for the business of football, and this March was no different.

After a start-and-stop, abbreviated season, Flaherty will helm a Cardinals rotation with an eye toward recapturing October success.

The first rule of John Stockton’s Sunday Ball is: You do not talk about Sunday Ball.

SI Gambling insider Frankie Taddeo shares the latest betting information for Tuesday’s Elite Eight matchups.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is making a strong case for an MVP three-peat.

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

.

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

Tags
Back to top button