N.C.A.A. Final Four Updates: Baylor Faces Houston
There are two semifinals tonight in the N.C.A.A. men’s tournament: Baylor is playing Houston and Gonzaga-U.C.L.A. tips at 8:35 p.m. Eastern.,
With a barrage of 3-point shooting and a stifling defensive effort, Baylor opened up a commanding halftime lead on Houston, 45-20, in the first national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium.
It was the most points Houston has allowed in a first half this season.
The Bears are halfway to the school’s first N.C.A.A. men’s championship game appearance since 1948.
“First and foremost, we know that this is only 20 minutes, so there’s 20 more minutes to go.” Baylor coach Scott Drew said on CBS. “We couldn’t ask for a better start the first 20 minutes, but it’s a 40-minute game. So we’ve got to come out, we’ve got to do what we did the first half, that’s share the basketball and get high-percentage shots and then we’ve got to do a great job on the defensive end.”
Jared Butler, a first-team all-America selection, had a masterful first half with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-5 from deep, along with 4 rebounds. Davion Mitchell distributed the ball brilliantly with 7 assists and 9 points. And Matthew Mayer also contributed 9 points off the bench.
Houston had been holding opponents to 28.3 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc, while Baylor’s 41.1 percent clip from deep leads Division I. So far, Baylor is leading this battle by making 8-of-15 from deep. The Bears also had 12 assists on 16 baskets.
The Bears’ stingy defense also held Houston to 7-of-26 shooting. Marcus Sasser made six of Houston’s seven shots, with five 3-pointers, en route to 17 points.
Houston guard Quentin Grimes went scoreless after coming in averaging 18 points.
Baylor’s only losses this season were to Kansas and Oklahoma State, The Bears are seeking their fifth straight win since falling to Cade Cunningham and the Cowboys in the Big 12 Tournament.
With a 25-point advantage, Baylor has amassed the fourth-largest halftime lead in the history of the Final Four. More bad news for Houston: No team has overcome more than an 11-point deficit at the intermission to win a national semifinal.
No, Houston will not be setting a record for fewest points in a half of a Final Four game. That mark belongs to Villanova, which scored 10 against Ohio State in a Final Four matchup in 1939.
Houston’s Marcus Sasser made eight 3-pointers in a game against Tulane in January. He’s already 4-of-6 from deep for 12 of Houston’s 14 points in this game. He’s really been their offense at this point.
Houston’s Marcus Sasser has 12 points and has made half of his shots. The rest of the Cougars? Well, DeJon Jarreau is the only other one to have scored — and he has just 2 points. Five players have scored so far for Baylor, which leads, 25-14, with 7:48 to play before the intermission.
Davion Mitchell is already filling up the stat sheet for Baylor, with 4 points, 4 assists and a key steal under the basket as the Bears lead 17-11. Marcus Sasser has accounted for 9 of 11 points for Houston, which will need to get Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau going.
As in recent years, the men’s Final Four games are being broadcast on CBS. The official way to stream the tournament is through the N.C.A.A.’s March Madness Live app, which requires logging in through a TV provider.
The Paramount+ app will also carry the games.
After its 81-72 win against Arkansas, Baylor (28-3) made it to its first Final Four since 1950 and the Bears look as ready as ever. The Bears, the top seed in the South region, are a strong defensive team that is going to give Houston its most challenging matchup in the tournament. The Bears also have great 3-point shooting — the best in the men’s game at 41 percent.
Baylor is led by three skilled guards — Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell — who combine to score 46.5 of the team’s 83 average points per game.
The important thing for Baylor is to take advantage of its shooting strengths. Houston’s defense is a hard one to get past, but Baylor has the shooters to do it. They just have to make the shots.
Baylor struggles with turnovers, averaging 11.7 per game. That carelessness with the ball sometimes hurts the Bears, like it did when they allowed Arkansas to make a comeback from 17 points down. Houston’s elite and quick defense could take advantage if that happens again.
Defense, defense, defense — No. 2-seeded Houston (28-3) out of the Midwest region is great at it. The Cougars are making their first Final Four appearance since 1984 and looking like a team ready and able to stop any offense in its path. Houston is able to close in quick and force turnovers, making it the second best defense in men’s Division I, holding opponents to just 57.6 points per game.
Houston is led by Quentin Grimes, a transfer from Kansas who has found much success with the Cougars. Grimes averages 18 points and 5.8 rebounds and is key to the team’s offensive strategy.
The Cougars are also a great rebounding team, which will be particularly important against Baylor’s 3-point shooting to take those second-chance points away from the Bears.
Houston has to be able to either set the pace of the game or keep up with Baylor on the offensive end. It is clearly a strong team when it comes to preventing its opponents from making shots, but Houston still must make its own.
Grimes is important for the Cougars offense, but he isn’t all of it, and can’t be if Houston expects to beat Baylor.
Gonzaga and Baylor have been ranked No. 1 and 2 for much of this college basketball season and the two schools may end up playing for the N.C.A.A. championship on Monday night.
But is Gonzaga point guard Andrew Nembhard already looking past upset-minded UCLA toward a showdown with the Bears, who have to beat Houston to reach the final?
“We were supposed to play them earlier in the season and we did a full scout on them, and the game got canceled the morning of, so we definitely had our eyes on them early in the season,” Nembhard said, referring to the game scheduled for Dec. 5 in Indianapolis that was canceled because of positive coronavirus tests within the Gonzaga program.
“We’ve definitely been watching their games and just seeing how great they’re doing,” Nembhard said. “I would love to play them in the finals and it would be a great matchup.”
Saturday has already been an eventful day for the Nembhard family as Ryan Nembhard, Andrew’s younger brother who is committed to Creighton, helped lead national prep power Montverde Academy in Florida to its fifth Geico High School Nationals title in the last nine years.
Now, Andrew hopes to lead unbeaten Gonzaga (30-0) past U.C.L.A. (22-9) and into the national title game against Baylor or Houston.
DeJon Jarreau, Quentin Grimes, Marcus Sasser and the rest of the Cougars had not been born when Houston’s Phi Slama Jama teams, coached by Guy Lewis, reached three straight Final Fours from 1982 to ’84.
Led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, the Cougars lost in the 1983 final to the North Carolina State team coached by Jim Valvano and then to Patrick Ewing and Georgetown a year later.
Houston — now featuring Jarreau, a New Orleans native who began his career at UMass; Grimes, who transferred from Kansas; and the sharpshooting Sasser, a Texas native like Grimes — has won 11 straight games dating to Feb. 18.
“I’m happy to bring that excitement back to Houston and continue what the Phi Slama Jama did,” Jarreau said.
Gonzaga (30-0) stands on the doorstep of history, but the Bulldogs haven’t made it their obsession.
With two more wins, Coach Mark Few’s club would become the first undefeated national champion in men’s basketball since Indiana in 1976. With victories Saturday and Monday, Gonzaga would finish at 32-0, the same mark that the Hoosiers put up 45 years ago.
“We’re not hung up on the undefeated thing at all,” Few told reporters after his squad dismantled No. 5-seeded Creighton, 83-65, in the round of 16 on Sunday. “We’ve got to go 3-0 if we want to win the championship, and that’s been our goal all along. Pressure is on all these teams as you get farther and farther along with this. Pressure comes from all kinds of places, and the biggest pressure of all is you just don’t want it to end.”
The two previous teams to get this far while undefeated — U.N.L.V. in 1991 and Kentucky in 2015 — both lost in the national semifinals.
Gonzaga does not appear to be in danger of following suit. The Bulldogs feature three players on the ballot for the Naismith Trophy as the nation’s best college player: Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs. Their fourth best player, Joel Ayayi, owns the only triple-double in program history. The Bulldogs have won their first four tournament games by a combined 96 points.
“I’ve loved every part of this journey, and we’re not done yet,” Suggs said in a television interview after Gonzaga smashed Southern California, 85-66, in the round of 8 on Tuesday.
Coach Scott Drew and the Bears (26-2) are appearing in the program’s first Final Four since 1950 and are seeking to make their first championship game since 1948. They enter as a 5-point favorite over Houston (28-3).
Baylor was the No. 2 team in the nation for much of the season and may be best equipped to challenge Gonzaga should it reach the final because it features a group of talented and experienced perimeter players in Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, Davion Mitchell, Adam Flagler and Matthew Mayer.
The backcourt matchup will be crucial. Houston holds opponents to 28.3 percent shooting from behind the 3-point arc, while Baylor’s 41.1 percent clip from deep leads Division I.
Since a pause because of virus protocols and a loss to Kansas in late February, the Bears are 8-1 and appear to be playing at the same level as when they began the season 18-0.
“We felt we had to diagnose some things, correct some things going forward,” Teague said of the Kansas loss. “And we felt like we would continue to get better as the season went on, and we didn’t want to peak in January. We want to peak at the time we’re peaking right now. We want to continue to get better even going into this last week.”
Coach Mick Cronin’s team is just the second, after Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, to advance to the Final Four from the First Four. The Bruins have won five straight games in this tournament — including victories over No. 1-seeded in Michigan and No. 2-seeded in Alabama — after losing four consecutive games before the tournament.
Yet the Bruins (22-9) will enter the national semifinals as a huge underdog, with many major betting sites listing Gonzaga as a 14-point favorite and heavy betting action on the Bulldogs.
“They’re going to have to keep it close and put game pressure on them somehow,” said Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley, who, as a player, helped Duke knock off U.N.L.V. in the national semifinals in 1991 before winning the championship. “Gonzaga’s been able to build big leads on teams that have been insurmountable.”
One crucial matchup to watch will be Gonzaga’s Drew Timme against U.C.L.A. center Cody Riley. The 6-foot-10 Timme excelled against Southern California’s Evan and Isaiah Mobley in the Elite Eight en route to 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The 6-foot-9 Riley, a junior averaging 9.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, will have to find a way to make life difficult for Timme, who loves to pass from the post to open teammates on the perimeter.