Houston, Baylor make long-awaited advances to Final Four

Aaron Beard and John Marshall
Associated Press

Indianapolis — Houston overcame a blown 17-point lead to hold off Oregon State 67-61 on Monday night in the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four for the first time in 37 years.

Quentin Grimes hit a 3-pointer with 3:21 left to break a 55-all tie. The second-seeded Cougars (28-3) spent the first half building a big lead behind a dominant defense, but they spent the second half hanging on as the 12th-seeded Beavers tried to add one more surprising result to a Midwest Region bracket beset by upsets.

Houston center Kiyron Powell (52) celebrates with teammate Quentin Grimes, right, after an Elite 8 game against Oregon State in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis. Houston won 67-61. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Grimes’ 3 from near the top of the arc finally steadied the Cougars, and Houston knocked down enough free throws down the stretch while holding Oregon State without a basket during a critical 31/2 minutes.

That sent the Cougars on to the national semifinals to face Baylor.

It wasn’t always pretty, with Houston shooting 29% after halftime and 32% for the game. Yet it also exemplified the program’s rugged defense-first identity under Kelvin Sampson, who has led Houston to accomplishments it hadn’t matched since the famed “Phi Slama Jama” days of the 1980s.

Marcus Sasser scored 20 points to lead Houston while Grimes added 18. Fittingly, it was DeJon Jarreau – the American Athletic Conference’s defensive player of the year who led the effort that stymied Oregon State star Ethan Thompson – who was named the most outstanding player of the Midwest Region.

Jarreau finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists two days after flirting with another triple-double and shutting down Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim in the Sweet 16.

This will be Houston’s first Final Four since Hakeem Olajuwon and coach Guy Lewis led the Cougars to the 1984 title game, in which they lost to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown. When this one was over, Houston’s players sprinted to midcourt to celebrate, then migrated to the corner of the court near the Houston fan section and started jumping around – and on top of each other – in a celebratory mob.

Jarreau shared a long embrace with Sampson at midcourt, a reward for the seventh-year coach who has returned the program to national prominence.

Maurice Calloo scored 13 points to lead Oregon State (20-13), which was vying to become the worst-seeded team ever to make a Final Four – not to mention extend a remarkable postseason run for a team that was picked to finish last in the Pac-12. But the Beavers dug themselves a huge hole by falling behind 34-17 at the break, then climbed all the way back only to see Grimes put the Cougars right back in front.

Thompson finished with 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting after averaging 20.3 points in the Beavers’ NCAA victories against Tennessee, Oklahoma State and Loyola Chicago.

Baylor 81, Arkansas 72

Baylor reached the Final Four for the first time in 71 years, getting 22 points from MaCio Teague and a dominating defensive performance from Davion Mitchell to beat Arkansas 81-72 on Monday night.

The South Region final was a reunion of former Southwest Conference programs aiming to join another (Houston) in the Final Four.

The top-seeded Bears (26-2) had not been able to get over the Elite Eight hump in two previous tries under Scott Drew and appeared to be barreling toward a blowout.

Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) tries to get past Baylor guard Matthew Mayer (24) and forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (23) during the second half of an Elite 8 game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Monday, March 29, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The Razorbacks (25-7) revved up the Mus Bus after some early sputtering, trimming an 18-point lead down to four.

The Bears ran away from there, right into next weekend’s Final Four against the Cougars.

Mitchell led the stiff-arm charge as Arkansas missed 12 straight shots and Teague hit a pair of 3-pointers to put it out of reach.

JD Notae and Davonte Davis had 14 apiece for the Razorbacks, who came up one game short of their first Final Four in 26 years.

The expected fast-twitch South Region final was going to be a drought-ender, just a matter of how long.

The Razorbacks had not clawed this far down the bracket since playing in the 1995 national title game. Coach Eric Musselman has put them in hyper drive during his two seasons, conjuring up the kind of excitement not seen in Fayetteville since the Nolan Richardson “40 Minutes of Hell” days.

Baylor had been in this spot before under Drew, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012. Both bracket runs ended in flameouts to the eventual national champions, leaving the Bears short of the Final Four dating back to when the bracket was only eight teams.

The Bears repeatedly beat the Razorbacks off the dribble to lead by 12 barely four minutes in, then on backdoor cuts to stretch it to 18.

The Mus Bus, just like it had twice before in March, found the right gear to climb out of the hole.

Mitchell’s third foul was the turning point.

When the head of Baylor’s defensive snake went to the bench with about 8 minutes left, Arkansas took advantage by beating the Bears off the dribble and getting to the rim.

The Razorbacks hit 10 of 11 shots during one stretch to pull within 44-38 and were down just eight at halftime despite struggling for a long stretch.