ATLANTA -- Just 57 seconds into Friday's NCAA South Regional game with Baylor, Xavier coach Chris Mack knew it might be a long night.
Quincy Acy, Baylor's 6-7 human aircraft carrier, took the ball one step inside the 3-point arc and drilled it home to give the Bears a 2-0 lead.
Mack screamed at the scorer's table at no one in particular: "He hasn't made that shot all year!"
Acy, we would soon learn, was just getting started. He fueled a 22-4 run to start the game and Baylor withstood a second half rally to beat the Musketeers 75-70 and advance to Sunday's South Regional championship game against Kentucky.
Acy, the senior from Mesquite, Texas, played one of the best overall games of his career with 20 points and 15 rebounds plus a dunk off an inbounds pass that will be among the highlights when the history of the 2012 NCAA tournament is written.
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"He's a cage rattler, no doubt about it," said Mack. "It's one thing for a guy like that to dunk on you. It's another when he steps out and hits a 17-footer. That's not fair. I'd like to see his birth certificate. He's one of those guys who is bigger and stronger than everybody else."
The humor of Mack's exasperation was not lost on Acy, who made 8 of 11 shots from the field.
"I was born in 1990 and I'm 21," he said with a smile.
And now, for the second time in three years, Baylor (30-7) has reached a regional championship game. In 2010 the Bears lost to Duke, which would go on to win the national championship. Now the Bears are facing Kentucky in the Georgia Dome where they will be significantly outnumbered.
"We know how the taste felt in our mouth last time and we don't want to go out with that same taste," said Acy. "We know we have the talent. Now we just have to go out and execute and do what Coach Drew tells us. He always puts us in good positions to do what we're capable of doing."
On this night Baylor was capable of doing a lot. Until you see the Bears in person, you can't appreciate how long and athletic they are. Point guard Pierre Jackson had 16 points and 10 assists. Center Perry Jones III is finding his stride after hitting seven of eight shots against Xavier. Brady Heslip had nine three-pointers in the previous game against Colorado and was held to only three baskets against Xavier. But down the stretch he made four crucial free throws.
This is a really good team.
"They are more talented than us. I was honest with my kids," said Mack. "I told them that last night when we went over the scouting report. They just knocked us back but we never waved the white flag."
It was a very special night for Baylor coach Scott Drew, who has rebuilt the Baylor program from the ashes of 2003, when it was hammered with NCAA sanctions, had to overcome the murder of one player by another, and started over after the forced resignation of coach Dave Bliss. In Drew's first three seasons the Bears went 21-53 and 8-40 in the Big 12. But in the last five seasons Baylor is 121-54 with two trips to the Elite Eight.
Acy's senior class is the most successful one in Baylor history as Friday night they recorded win No. 100.
"We believed in what we were doing when we started and knew we just had to be persistent and keep working," said Drew. "We knew it would eventually work if we didn't lose faith."
Faith has always been a big part of Scott Drew's life. And what made Friday night special for Drew was the presence of his mom and dad at the Georgia Dome.
Last September Homer Drew, the patriarch who built the program at Valparaiso where he was head coach for 22 years, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Three days later, Scott's mother, Janet Drew, was diagnosed with stage three bladder cancer.
Homer Drew later had his prostate removed and has been declared cancer-free. Janet Drew has had a more difficult time with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But she was insistent on making the trip.
"That meant a lot because she's battled a lot and gone through a lot and probably shouldn't have come down," said Drew. "But my mom's the tough one in the family. I know it was a long trip for here. She was worn out for getting here. I'm just proud that she was here and we could get a win for her. I think if we'd have lost and she had to drive back tomorrow she would have really hated me."
Baylor's only Final Four appearances (1948, 1950) came when the NCAA tournament was only an eight-team bracket. The Bears got to this moment in 2010 only to lose to one of college basketball's best programs.
They'll draw on that experience on Sunday, when a trip to New Orleans will hang in the balance against one of the sport's storied names.
"I think the big thing is when you've done something, human nature is you want to go the next step," said Drew. "With people experiencing the Elite Eight before, that's helped us stay grounded, focused, to try to be in a situation where you can cut down the nets and go to a Final Four."