Baylor is in the Final Four for the first time in 71 years.
The No. 1 Bears put No. 3 Arkansas away over the final six minutes of their Elite Eight matchup Monday night in an 81-72 victory thanks to a couple of key threes by MaCio Teague and a long shooting drought by Arkansas.
The Razorbacks had cut Baylor's advantage to 64-60 via two free throws with 7:34 to go but never got within a single possession after that. Once Baylor got the lead back to six, Teague hit threes sandwiched by an Arkansas free throw to give Baylor an insurmountable 72-61 lead with 3:59 to go.
By the time Arkansas got a bucket again, the Razorbacks were down 10 and had gone over eight minutes without a field goal. And Mark Vital had delivered an emphatic slam to cap the run off with a flourish and crown Baylor the champions of the South Region.
Another matchup with an ex-Southwestern Conference rival
The Bears' win sets up another matchup with a former Southwestern Conference foe. Baylor and Arkansas were longtime members of the now-defunct conference and Baylor will face Houston on Saturday in a semifinal. Baylor and Houston were members of the conference for 25 years from when Houston joined in 1972 to when the conference dissolved in 1996.
Baylor was an original member of the SWC when it was formed in 1915. And until its recent run with coach Scott Drew it had seen its most basketball success in the Southwestern Conference while Bill Henderson was the team’s coach.
The Bears were among the final four teams in the NCAA tournament three times from 1946-1950 and lost in the 1948 national title game.
That tournament appearance in 1950 was the Bears’ last until a one-and-done berth in the 1988 tournament. And that tournament appearance 33 years ago was the team’s most recent until Baylor went to the tournament in 2008 in Drew’s fifth season.
The 2021 NCAA tournament is Baylor’s ninth under Drew. And with a win over Houston — and two more victories by Gonzaga — we could get the matchup for the national title that college basketball has been waiting for between the Bears and the Bulldogs.
Arkansas' attempt at a fourth big comeback falls short
The Razorbacks were in familiar territory early against Baylor. The Razorbacks were down 13-2 less than four minutes into the game.
That was the fourth time in four tournament games that Arkansas had been down by at least 10. Arkansas had a 14-point comeback in the first round against Colgate, a 10-point comeback in the second round against Texas Tech and a 12-point comeback on Saturday against Oral Roberts.
Monday, the deficit got to as big as 18. There were multiple moments throughout the game where it looked like Arkansas was done. Yet the Razorbacks kept pushing Baylor and had a real shot when the lead got down to four.
But none of the Hogs' shots would go in. That drought coupled with Baylor's 21 points off 15 Arkansas turnovers ultimately doomed Arkansas' hopes of making the Final Four since the program's heyday in the mid-1990s.
JD Notae fouls out after two fouls in 21 seconds
Arkansas got a boost off the bench from JD Notae as usual. Notae is the team’s third-leading scorer at nearly 13 points per game despite not being a part of the starting lineup.
Notae scored 14 against Baylor on Monday night. But Notae fouled out of the game with 13:38 to go after picking up two fouls in 21 seconds and three fouls in less than two minutes.
His fourth foul came on an and-one by Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua. And then Notae committed his fifth foul just seconds later on a charge that could have easily been called a block.
The Razorbacks' scoring slump started minutes after Notae left the game. Davonte Davis' layup with 10:11 left was the team's last field goal until Justin Smith scored with 1:20 to go.
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