Saturday's NCAAs: Baylor grinds to Elite 8 in 62-51 win over Villanova

Eddie Pells
Associated Press

Indianapolis — That ice that seemed to be forming across the 3-point arc was hardly enough to throw Baylor off course.

Some rugged defense and a newly discovered love for points in the paint helped the top-seeded Bears find the formula for a 62-51 victory over Villanova on Saturday and a trip to the Elite Eight.

Baylor guard Davion Mitchell (45) drives past Villanova guard Justin Moore (5) in the second half of a Sweet 16 game Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Adam Flagler was the surprise leading scorer, with 16 points, and Baylor (25-2), which came in as the nation's leading 3-point shooting team at 41.5%, won despite making only 3 of 19 against Villanova's ever-shifting 2-3, man-to-man combo on D.

Baylor, which started the season 18-0 and won its first-ever Big 12 regular-season title, is one win from the Final Four for the first time since 2012. The Bears will play Arkansas in the South regional final on Monday.

Davion Mitchell, a 46% shooter from 3 this season, went 0 for 3 from long range on a 14-point day. The team's other two high-powered guards didn't fare better. Jared Butler scored nine points on 1-for-9 shooting from 3, and MaCio Teague had five points without a 3.

“When we are 2 for 12 at half, we figured we've got to get inside,” coach Scott Drew said of the team's 3-point shooting. “We got good looks but not great looks. The guards did a great job of not settling and probing more.”

Because of that, Baylor shot 53% in the second half, even though it made only one 3.

“Coach said we're not going to win if we keep shooting the off-dribble 3,” Mitchell said. “He told us to trust the defense and get in the paint.”

The game changed midway through the second half when Baylor took Drew's words to heart and started pounding inside. The Bears took a six-point lead with a 14-2 run during which not a single point came from outside the arc. Baylor outscored ’Nova 40-32 in the paint for the game.

Defense picked up, too.

Constantly harassing Villanova shooters who'd carved out space in the first half, Baylor held Villanova to 37.5% shooting in the second and 0 for 9 from 3. Baylor had four of its five blocked shots after halftime. During one stretch in the decisive run, Baylor forced five straight turnovers on ’Nova possessions. The Wildcats finished with 16 turnovers, almost double their nation-best season average (8.8).

Coach Jay Wright’s team scored 10 points over the final 11 minutes.

“We were good enough to beat them but they just played better down the stretch,” Wright said. “I think their defense got into us and wore us down and it made the difference in the game.”

The Wildcats got 16 points from Jermaine Samuels, but only three from Caleb Daniels on 1-for-11 shooting.

Villanova (18-7) came in without injured point guard Collin Gillespie and with a middling defense at best, but looked to be turning things around over the first weekend of the tournament. There were mini-victories in this one, too, in part because Wright's deft mix of defenses kept Baylor off the mark. This marked only the second time this season anyone has held that high-powered offense under 65 points.

Shooting struggles aside, 2021 still has the makings of being Baylor's year, and any residue from the pandemic-related breaks that halted the Bears' momentum after a perfect start appear to have faded.

“You've got to take advantage of every opportunity, and obviously we have an opportunity to go to the Final Four,” Drew said. “Hopefully, we'll put our best foot forward.”

In the stands at Hinkle Fieldhouse was Bobby Plump, whose game-winning shot in the 1954 high school state title game was the inspiration for the hoops classic “Hoosiers.” He's a semi-regular at the arena where the climax of the movie was filmed. He was joined by screenwriter Angelo Pizzo, who also wrote another underdog tale: “Rudy.”

It was hardly what Villanova needed. Forward Brandon Slater left the game about midway through the second half after landing awkwardly during a fight for a rebound. Slater only had four points, but was a presence on defense, with two blocks and a few more that he altered.

“Certain guys were struggling with matchups on their quick guards, and that’s when it kind of turned — when he went out,” Wright said.

More Sweet 16

►Oregon State 65, Loyola Chicago 58: Led by unflappable guard Ethan Thompson, whose 20 points included a pair of clinching foul shots with 35 seconds left, No. 12 seed Oregon State and its brilliant defense shut down eighth-seeded Loyola Chicago in a victory that sent their long-suffering program into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

It's Oregon State's first regional final since 1982 — one that was later vacated by the NCAA — and sets up a showdown with second-seeded Houston or No. 10 seed Syracuse on Monday night for a spot in its first Final Four since 1963.

Not even the fervent prayers of Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt could help Loyola deal with the Beavers (20-12) and the constantly changing defenses that Tinkle rolled out. The Ramblers (26-5), who played with such poise and perfection in toppling top-seeded Illinois, wound up shooting 33% from the field and 5 of 23 from beyond the arc.

All-America forward Cameron Krutwig led Loyola with 14 points. Lucas Williamson and Braden Norris added 10 apiece, though both of them missed 3-pointers in the closing minutes as Loyola tried to mount a comeback.

It was the second meeting between the teams and first since Dec. 31, 1927, when Loyola won 31-19 in Chicago — and Sister Jean, the Ramblers' beloved 101-year-old chaplain, was still just a schoolgirl.

And for most of Saturday, it looked as if 31 points would be plenty.

Oregon State turned it over twice before getting off a shot, went nearly 6 1/2 minutes before making its first field goal and at one point was 1 of 8 with four turnovers. Then the Ramblers, who failed to take advantage of their defense, proceeded to miss 11 consecutive shots as Oregon State flip-flopped between man-to-man and zone defenses.

The Beavers wound up shutting out Loyola the last 5:48 to take a 24-16 halftime lead, the lowest-scoring first half of the entire tournament. Krutwig was 3 of 5 from the field; the rest of the Ramblers were 1 of 18.

You'd have sworn the Beavers sported the nation's No. 1 scoring defense, not the other way around.

Oregon State built on Warith Alatishe's buzzer-beating bucket to end the first half by getting some shots to go in the second. Thompson did most of the damage, hitting an early jumper, beating the shot clock with another fadeaway, then catching a Hail Mary heave to beat a full-court press and give the Beavers a 37-24 lead with 12 minutes to go.

Meanwhile, the Ramblers were hitting everything but the bottom of the bucket.

Williamson rimmed out 3-pointers on back-to-back trips down the floor. Tate Hall clanked a couple of free throws when that was about the only place they were scoring. Krutwig even had a baby hook go halfway down and right back out.

Even when the shots wouldn't fall, Loyola continued to play defense, and that kept the game close. And when Braden Norris knocked down a 3 and Aher Uguak tipped in an ally-oop with 2:43 to go, the Ramblers had trimmed their deficit to 49-44 and had the partisan crowd sitting mostly in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse cheering.

Kennedy hit a 3-pointer to get the Ramblers within 51-47, then another shot to get within 53-49, but the Beavers kept finding answers. Lucas provided one with a 3, Alatishe provided another from the foul line, and that was enough to keep the Pac-12's dream tournament going into the Elite Eight.

Arkansas 72, Oral Roberts 70: Davonte Davis hit a short jumper with 2.9 seconds left, and Arkansas advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in 26 years.

The Muss Buss grinded its gears through the first half into the second, bad shots and even worse defense putting Arkansas in a 12-point hole against the 15th-seeded Golden Eagles.

Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks (25-6) got their Pig Sooie swagger back, turning defensive stops into early offense opportunities and offensive rebounds into points.

It came down to one final shot and Davis made it, sending Arkansas to the Elite Eight for the first time since the Nolan Richardson “40 Minutes of Hell” days.

Next up for the Razorbacks is face top-seeded Baylor in what should be a fast-paced South Region final on Monday.

The let-it-fly Golden Eagles (18-11) let history slip through their grasp.

Within reach of becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight, Oral Roberts stumbled with a series of turnovers and missed shots.

Max Abmas did his best to put the Golden Eagles in the Elite Eight for the first time in 47 years, scoring 25 points. His 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim.

The Golden Eagles had history on their minds. Florida Gulf Coast was the only other No. 15 seed to get this far in 2013 and lost at the regional semifinal round.

Oral Roberts knew it had a chance to top it against the Razorbacks after playing them earlier in the season. Oral Roberts led by 10 at halftime in Fayetteville on Dec. 20 before Arkansas bullied the Golden Eagles in the second half for an 87-76 win.

The Golden Eagles went chest-to-chest with the Razorbacks from the start of their first Sweet 16 game since 1974, contesting shots at the rim and chasing out to the arc to prevent open looks. Arkansas helped them out with some difficult shots attempts, going 1 for 7 from 3 in the first half.

The Razorbacks tried to make it difficult on Abmas, trapping him in most pick-and-roll situations. The nation’s leading scorer still found a way to get his points, with 12 in the first half. Carlos Jurgens, who averages 5.7 points per game, took advantage of repeatedly being left open, scoring 11 to help Oral Roberts lead 35-28 at halftime.

The Golden Eagles continued making shots in the second half as the Razorbacks kept taking bad ones, stretching the lead to 46-34.

But Arkansas had already been in this position once before, needing “24 Minutes of Hell” to outlast another upstart, Colgate, to open the NCAA Tournament.

Just like that game, the Razorbacks snapped out of it, playing better defense and getting to the rim instead of throwing up contested shots. Arkansas chipped the lead down to four midway through and finally caught, then passed, the Golden Eagles into the Elite Eight.

Houston 62, Syracuse 46: Quentin Grimes scored 14 points while Houston’s defense locked down on surging Buddy Boeheim.

Justin Gorham had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the second-seeded Cougars, who pushed through to their first trip to a regional final in 37 years, earning a matchup with Oregon State for the Midwest Region title and a spot in the Final Four.

The Cougars also got a strong all-around effort from DeJon Jarreau, who finished with nine points, eight rebounds and eight assists while leading the defensive effort that kept Boeheim in check – and ultimately derailed the 11th-seeded Orange’s latest postseason push as a double-digit seed.

Houston (27-3) came in holding opponents to a national-low 37.3% shooting, and then harassed Syracuse (18-10) into just 28% (14 for 50), including a 5-for-23 performance from 3-point range.

The focus was making every look difficult for Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim’s son, who had been on an absolute tear through four games in the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Tournament games to earn the nickname “Buddy Buckets.”

The 6-foot-6 junior had averaged 28.3 points through those games, which included him shooting 60% from the floor and 55.8% from 3-point range.

Things weren’t nearly so easy Saturday.

Jarreau spent much of the night chasing Boeheim, hovering in his shadow on the perimeter, staying right on his hip on drives and swiping at the ball as Boeheim secured catches. Boeheim managed just one first-half basket and finished with 12 points on 3-for-13 shooting, including 1 for 9 from 3-point range.

And the Orange couldn’t muster much of anything else, either.

As for Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars, Houston shot just 38% and 7 for 26 from 3-point range. But they’re off to the school’s first regional final since reaching a second straight NCAA championship game in 1984 with Hakeem Olajuwon and coach Guy Lewis during the famed “Phi Slama Jama” era.