April 3 (UPI) — Baylor balanced brilliant offensive ball movement with a smothering defense to blow out Houston on Saturday in the Final Four and advance to Monday’s National Championship game in Indianapolis.
Junior guard Jared Butler paced the top-seeded Bears with 17 points, all scored in the first half of the 78-59 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium. Davion Mitchell chipped in 12 points and 11 assists for Baylor. The Bears bench contributed 32 points in the win.
“I’m a shooter,” Butler told reporters. “Sometimes the ball goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really about staying confident.
“Thankfully the ball went in when we needed it the most.”
The Bears corralled the No. 2 Cougars with intense defensive pressure and were sharp from 3-point range in the first half. Butler made four of five 3-point attempts to help the Bears earn a 45-20 lead at halftime.
“We had a great start,” Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters. “The guys really played with poise, shared the ball and made extra passes, but the big thing was that we really guarded well and defended well.
“You knew Houston would score in the second half, but we were able to hold them at bay.”
The Bears and Cougars went point for point to start the game. Baylor then went on a 10-0 run and stole momentum. The Bears put together another 11-0 run later in the half to push the lead to 21 points.
The Bears’ 45 first-half points were the most allowed by the Cougars in the first half of any game this season. The Cougars had one of the nation’s stingiest defenses and allowed the second-fewest points per game in college basketball.
Cougars guard Marcus Sasser had 17 of his game-high 20 points in the first half, but the rest of the team struggled to convert from the field.
The Cougars were reenergized to start the second half and used a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to 16 points, but the Bears fended off the surge and held onto the advantage.
Matthew Mayer scored 12 points off the Baylor bench. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Macio Teague scored 11 points apiece for the Bears. Houston guard Quentin Grimes scored 13 points in the loss.
“When we are all connected and united, it’s hard for anybody to beat us,” Butler said. “We have a lot of guys who would start on other teams. I think that’s why we are so good and made it to the championship game.”
Baylor battles No. 11 UCLA or top overall seed Gonzaga in the National Championship game at 9 p.m. EDT Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium. UCLA and Gonzaga play in the other Final Four matchup at 8:34 p.m. EDT Saturday on ESPN.
“Whoever we play, it will be a hard-fought game,” Drew said. “We know we are there, but whoever we play, we know it will be a great matchup.”