INDIANAPOLIS — One of the biggest rebuilding efforts lately college sports background is finally one step closer to conclusion, as Baylor acquired over the hump and advanced to its first Final Four since 1950.
But in both prior appearances, Baylor hurried to the eventual national champions and were shipped home one step short of the Final Four.
“I was worried I was going to have the ability to stay up this late,” Drew explained. “But anyhow [it’s] just pure joy, excitement. Evidently, tired because it is overdue. Plus it was an emotional game. But again, seeing our guys with an opportunity to cut down the internet and observe, doesn’t get much better than that come March.”
The Bears scored the first seven points and led by as many as 18 points in the first half. However, Arkansas, that came back from double-digit shortages in each of its first three NCAA tournament games, fought and entered halftime down only eight.
From the second half, Baylor again extended the lead out to double digits on multiple events, but the Razorbacks remained in the match. Arkansas would not get any closer.
Baylor left the door open, but a six-minute field goal drought for Arkansas allowed the Bears to keep the Razorbacks in an arm’s length. MaCio Teague sealed the win with back-to-back dagger 3s in the final five minutes.
“We’ve been in the fire before. It’s not our first time in the fire.”
Teague finished with a game-high 22 points to lead Baylor, while Jared Butler had 14 points and five assists, and Davion Mitchell shook off ancient nasty issues to finish with 12 points and six assists. Mitchell also defended Moody, among the best freshman scorers in the country, and held him to 2-for-10 shooting.
“I think he’s the best defender in the country,” Drew said of Mitchell. “We call him’Away Night,’ because people tend to get off nights . He’s a nightmare to deliver the ball .
“He’s the speed car. Everyone sees him working. So that contributes to everybody else working. So that energy he brings, and he has unbelievable speed. You can see versus their snare, their pressure, it is quite hard to keep him in front. Unbelievable God-given speed and ability.”
Drew took over a program mired in scandal when he had been hired from Valparaiso in 2003. Baylor forward Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson during a debate, and ensuing investigations demonstrated that then-head coach Dave Bliss attempted to prevent NCAA violations by claiming that Dennehy was dealing drugs so as to cover his tuition. Further NCAA investigations uncovered a range of major violations given by Bliss, who resigned and received a 10-year show-cause punishment against the NCAA.
Baylor was struck with probation, enormous scholarship reductions along with also a ban on nonconference games during the 2005-06 season.
Just two years after the nonconference prohibit, Drew had Baylor in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years — and the Bears have missed it just four times as.
“I really believed in the vision of this school, by the president and the administrators throughout that time and what they wanted Baylor to continue to grow and become. And that I wanted to be a part of that. Obviously, after we got to the season and you also found out that most of your team were walk-ons and the majority of them were not over 6-foot-2, you then understood it may be harder than you initially thought. But obviously, the aim was always to create an app that could always compete and have an chance to play in March.”
Last season seemed like their very best opportunity to finish the Final Four drought, together with the Bears starting out with 24 wins in 25 games before some late-season stumbles. Nevertheless, they were still on course to get a 1-seed — until the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the conclusion of the NCAA tournament.
“It is nice that these men were able to observe, particularly after this past year, when we had been on the verge of having the first No. 1 seed in school history and not having a opportunity to compete at the NCAA championship,” Drew said.
COVID-19 nearly derailed Baylor’s dream year for a second time this season, together with the Bears being made to pause for three weeks in February. A 17-0 record before the pause has been quickly tarnished using a 13-point reduction at Kansas in their next match back. Baylor then lost again in the semifinals of the Big 12 championship, and there were concerns entering the NCAA championship as to whether the Bears could recover the border they played during the first 3 months of this season.
“I don’t think we ever lost optimism,” Teague said. “After we dropped Kansas, at Kansas, it was just like, we had to lose eventually. Then we dropped — but we felt like we weren’t at our best. We felt we needed to diagnose some matters, correct some things moving forward. And we felt as though we’d continue to get better as the year went on, and also we did not need to peak in January. We would like to peak at the time we are peaking right now. We would like to continue to get better going into this last week.”
Since getting some time between the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, however, Baylor has run wins over Hartford, Wisconsin, Villanova and Arkansas on Monday.
“As a trainer, I’d want to believe we’d return, yes, but there is no publication. So that you don’t know for sure. You lose one game and you are outside,” Drew explained. “I’m thankful we’re playingwith, and I think we continue getting better.”