The best season in Baylor's basketball history will be capped with an appearance in the NCAA Tournament championship game and maybe a national title. The No. 1 seed Bears secured their place at the table in stunning fashion as they easily defeated No. 2 seed Houston 78-59 in Saturday's Final Four. It marked the largest margin of victory in a national semifinal game since No. 1 seed Villanova defeated No. 2 seed Oklahoma by 34 points in 2016.
Officially, the game ended at 7:14 p.m. ET. But unofficially, this one was over at halftime. Houston faced its largest deficit of the season 20 minutes into game action when Baylor guard Davion Mitchell hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Bears a 45-20 lead going into the break. The Cougars never got within 16 points after that.
It's no surprise given what Baylor has done all year that its magical run will end in, at worst, a top-two finish this season. The Bears for the majority of the year led all of college basketball in scoring margin, and their win over Houston marked their fourth double-digit win in five March Madness games. The win lands them in the national championship game for the first time since 1948, ending a 73-year gap that was the second-longest in Division I history.
"We're extremely confident," Baylor guard Jared Butler, who had a team-high 17 points, said after the game on CBS. "We didn't come all this way to not win it all."
Houston had a hot start to the game, forcing a shot-clock violation on the opening possession then getting a 3-pointer from Marcus Sasser on the other end. But that fast start fizzled in a hurry. Just 10 minutes into the first half Baylor was up by 11, and it was foreshadowing of how the remainder of the game would go.
Here are a few key takeaways from the game.
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Baylor is back in mid-season form
On Feb. 2, Baylor was 17-0, one of two undefeated teams left standing, and firmly in the driver seat to supplant Gonzaga as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. That fell apart in a hurry as a three-week COVID layoff zapped the team of its momentum and its sharpness, as the Bears dropped two of their next six games.
The light has flickered back on in the Big Dance in a way that is reminiscent of the dominant mid-season Baylor team we now know. It had no problems against Hartford or Wisconsin in the first and second rounds, as expected. Then it had brief early troubles against Villanova in the Sweet 16. But its last two games have been masterpieces in how to outclass quality opponents. The last two games Baylor has combined to make 19 of its 39 3-pointers, adding to the legend of the best 3-point shooting team in college basketball.
Houston's run will be remembered
Do not let one lopsided loss to an all-time great Baylor team distract you from what Houston has done this season. The Cougars lost preseason AAC Player of the Year Caleb Mills after only four games, and still finish the season with the fourth-best winning percentage in program history and a sixth-ever Final Four appearance to boot.
"I told those guys how appreciative I was of their commitment to the team in probably the toughest year for any of us," Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. "This team went from 355 [Division I teams] to [a Final] Four. This was quite a year."
Davion Mitchell continues to light it up
He took over late against Arkansas in the Elite Eight with his driving and defense, and Saturday, Davion Mitchell did it again. Mitchell finished the game with only 12 points but had 11 assists in 36 minutes and committed zero turnovers, becoming the first player since 1987 to reach double digits in assists while committing no turnovers in a Final Four game.
"I thought he made great reads, thought he really got going at the end of the half," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "He's a two-way player, but then on the offensive end he can score it and he can create for others so it was a tremendous effort by him."