It wasn't easy, but Baylor's quest to reach its first Final Four in 71 years is still alive after the No. 1-seeded Bears got past No. 5 Villanova 62-51 in the Sweet 16 of the men's NCAA Tournament.
Adam Flagler had a team-high 16 points for Baylor, which will play Monday against the winner of the Arkansas-Oral Roberts game later Saturday.
“We’ve got guys that are really tough, really competitive,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the game. “They put so much time into their craft, into their development.”
To stay alive, the Bears needed to stage a big comeback in the second half.
Villanova took control of the game midway through the first half with a 13-0 run. Reliant on its perimeter game all season, Baylor, the leading three-point shooting team in the country, missed nine of its first 10 shots from beyond the arc. Villanova went to the locker room with a 30-23 lead, which was a good sign for the Wildcats, who entered the game 15-0 when leading at halftime.
With their tournament lives on the line, Baylor came out more aggressive on offense and defense in the second half. The Bears started attacking the basket instead of relying on their outside shot that had gone cold. Their first 24 points of the half came from in the paint, mostly in drives after getting past defenders. Pressure on Villanova ball handlers forced numerous turnovers, fueling the turnaround.
“Coach told us we can get to the paint anytime we want,” Bears junior guard Davion Mitchell said. “All our missed threes were off the dribble. We were basically bailing them out. We weren’t making them guard.”
The Wildcats hung tough. It wasn't until Jared Butler's layup midway through the second half that Baylor finally went ahead for the first time since 6:21 left in the first half.
Flagler's three-pointer, the team's only one of the second half, pushed the lead to seven. Mitchell, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, hit consecutive baskets to make the advantage nine with 2:33 left. From there, free throws locked the game up.
“We love to be in the bubble,” Mitchell said afterward. “We put in a lot of work, put in a lot of time. Our whole lives we’ve been working for this moment, man. We love to win. We love to keep playing.”
Villanova's season ends with disappointment. Hoping to reach their third Final Four in the past five editions of the event, the Wildcats were playing without second-leading scorer Collin Gillespie, who was injured late in the season. They still won the Big East regular-season title, but their seeding suffered after dropping three of their last four games, including the first game of the conference tournament.
Follow colleges reporter Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith
Contributing: Zach Osterman
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baylor advances to men's Elite Eight with comeback against Villanova