By Matthew Soderberg | Editor-in-Chief
Baylor moved on to its first Elite Eight matchup since 2012 Saturday with a 62-51 win over No. 5-seed Villanova. The Wildcats average just 8.8 turnovers a game, but the Bears forced 16 from the Big East regular season champions.
It was a back-and-forth affair for the first six minutes and twenty seconds of the game. At the 13:40 mark, Villanova took an 11-8 lead. Baylor then ripped off 10 straight before the Wildcats responded with 13 of their own until there was 5:20 left in the half. With a six-point lead in hand, the teams went back and forth until the Wildcats were up seven going into the half. Head coach Scott Drew said the team’s lack of shooting success led to a major adjustment in the locker room.
“When we were 2-for-12 at the half, we knew we had to get inside,” Drew said. “We had decent looks, not great looks. Credit Villanova for doing a great job contesting shots. I thought our guards did a great job not settling and probing more, and because of that, we shot 53% in the second half.”
Villanova held its lead through the first six and a half minutes of the second half before the Bears’ defense locked down. With the score at 39-33, Baylor scored 14 of the next 16 points to take a six point lead with 8:20 left to play. After scoring 30 in the first half, the Wildcats only scored 21 points in the second and 12 in the last 13 minutes. Junior guard Davion Mitchell said everything came down to the turnovers.
“We knew if we wanted to win, we had to turn them over,” Mitchell said. “We had to make them feel uncomfortable. They’re a really fundamental team. They don’t turn the ball over. They’re number one in the country in not turning the ball over. For us to win, we had to get them out of their comfort zone, and I think we did a really good job of that.”
Sophomore guard Adam Flagler led Baylor in scoring with 16, hitting the last six points for the Bears as they extended their lead to 13 with under a minute remaining. Mitchell was second with 14 points.
Junior guard Jared Butler and senior guard Macio Teague each had off nights compared to their recent production, shooting a combined six of 20 for 14 points. The Bears as a whole only shot 44% from the field and 16% from beyond the arc. Mitchell said Butler’s shooting isn’t the only thing that makes him a great player.
“I think Jared did a good job in the first half,” Mitchell said. “He shot a lot of [off the dribble] threes, but in the second half, he trusted us. He was a leader on the floor. He was a leader defensively, offensively. I think that’s what changed the game.”
While the offense struggled, the defense did not. Baylor clamped down on Villanova throughout the second half, as the No. 5 seed shot just 38% from the field and 0-9 from three.
“They really got into our guards and prevented us from initiating offense,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They just contested every pass, every cut. And it did make us — it actually took us out of running offense, and we had to try to just kind of drive the ball and try to get some post-ups, but we didn’t do a good job of that, but I think the credit goes to their defense.”
The Bears will be back to face No. 3-seed Arkansas on Monday, with a chance to make their first Final Four since 1950.
“I think it’s something at the beginning of the year every team in the country wants to be in the NCAA Tournament. Every team in the country wants to go to a Final Four. We’re on the verge of that,” Drew said. “I think in life, experiences always teach you lessons and different things. And hopefully our staff will be able to prepare our guys and put them in a good position through the two experiences in the Elite Eights before.”