The Baylor Bears sprinted to a 25-point halftime lead on their way to a 78-59 win over the Houston Cougars in the first semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament on April 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium, securing their first appearance in a national title game since 1948.
The Bears will play the winner of No. 1 seed Gonzaga and No. 11 seed UCLA on April 5 at the same venue.
Baylor (27-2) players and coaches emphasized before the matchup how good Houston (28-4) was this season on defense and the offensive glass, and that’s where the Cougars asserted themselves right away by forcing a shot clock violation and then grabbing two offensive rebounds on the other end of the floor.
But Houston had no answers after that and no one to help sophomore guard Marcus Sasser, who had 17 of the Cougars’ 20 points at halftime.
Baylor’s 45-20 halftime lead represented the fourth-largest lead at the break in Final Four semifinal history.
“We were going shot for shot, and that wasn’t going to win it,” Sasser said. “We had to get stops. And it was just unfortunate we couldn’t do that.”
Houston entered the semifinal game as one of the best defenses in the country, allowing opponents to convert only 29.2% of their 3-point looks, but Baylor found its stride quickly.
The Bears hit their first three 3-pointers and finished 11 for 24 from behind the arc. Junior guard Jared Butler led the way with six triples and 17 points.
“You know, I’m a shooter,” said Butler, the Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year who entered the game averaging a team-high 16.5 points. “Sometimes the ball goes in. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in. It’s just about me staying confident through it all. And tonight just the ball went in.”
Redshirt junior MaCio Teague contributed 11 points, all in the second half, and junior forward Matthew Mayer scored 12 off the bench.
Baylor’s defense held Houston to 37% shooting and its lowest point total of the season. Sasser didn’t score after halftime, and the Cougars’ only other double-digit scorer was junior guard Quentin Grimes with 13 points.
“I think we were prepared,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said of his defense. “And really our guys did a great job buying into — locking in on assignments and tendencies.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.