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INDIANAPOLIS – Baylor guard Jared Butler said before Saturday's national semifinal game that just reaching a Final Four wasn't enough. The Bears had to be the best.
Baylor inched one step closer to cutting down the nets as the best team in the sport, riding Butler's hot shooting to drub Houston 78-59 and reach the men's national championship game.
The Bears (27-2) advance to play the winner of Gonzaga-UCLA on Monday for the title (9 p.m ET, CBS).
Butler, Baylor's first-team All-American guard and leading scorer, hadn't played his best in this NCAA Tournament – as his teammates stepped up. He made up for lost time Saturday, draining four first half three-pointers on the way to 17 points on the night. Any time Houston tried to regain any sense of momentum, Butler nailed a jumper to keep Baylor far out front.
“It was just a great night for my teammates and what they’ve done," Butler said in a TV interview after the game. "We came out strong. We came out fired up. We really locked in defensively and that was a big key in the game.
“We’re extremely confident. We didn’t come all this way to not win it all. We came all this way to show who we are and bring the culture of joy and that’s what we’re going to do Monday night.”
Davion Mitchell (12 points and 11 assists), the national defensive player of the year, was also on his A-game early on, draining a step-back three-pointer as the first half expired to give the Bears a 45-20 cushion. The second half saw Baylor's co-stars – Adam Flagler and MaCio Teague – pile on.
Houston's Marcus Sasser was the only offensive life for the Cougars in the first half, scoring 17 of the team's 20 points. The program's normally smothering defense was absent against a potent Baylor offense, allowing almost as many points in the first half (45) as it had allowed its previous three NCAA Tournament opponents (an average of 55.7 points).
Baylor, back in the Final Four for the first time since 1950, hadn't played a complete game in the NCAA Tournament or fully tapped into its offensive potential until now. The Bears, who lead the nation in three-point field goal percentage, went 11-for-24 from beyond the arc vs. Houston. Matthew Mayer came up big for Baylor off the bench with 12 points.
“That’s a strength of our team. We play with joy and we do a great job of sharing the ball and helping one other," Baylor coach Scott Drew said in a TV interview after the game. "We’ve got a lot of different weapons — people who can score 20. Everybody puts their ego aside and tries to hit the open man and is happy for others. We’re really blessed. We’re really excited. We got one more to go now.“
Follow college basketball reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Final Four: Baylor routs Houston, reaches men's NCAA title game