Top-seeded Baylor entered the Final Four featuring a starting lineup constructed around a three-guard lineup touted as the best in the nation while simultaneously aware that second-seeded Houston came equipped with its own formidable collection of guards.
Junior guards Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell helped Baylor claim the battle of the backcourts, co-authoring a dominating first half as the Bears rolled to a 78-59 win over Houston in the first national semifinal of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Butler scored 14 points during one six-plus-minute stretch in the first half en route to a team-high 17 points while Mitchell recorded seven of his 11 assists -- a program postseason record -- as Baylor (27-2) raced to a 25-point halftime lead. By suffocating the Cougars (28-4) defensively and limiting their influence on the offensive glass, Baylor earned a place in the national final Monday against either Gonzaga or UCLA.
Mitchell tallied 12 points to post a double-double while Matthew Mayer added 12 points off the bench. MaCio Teague, the third member of the Bears' guard trio, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, another Bears reserve, scored 11 apiece for Baylor, which posted a 33-28 rebounding edge and advanced to its first championship game since 1948.
"I say the same thing all the time: Like, when we're all connected and we're all united, it's hard for anybody to beat us," Butler said. "And we got a lot of guys who would start on other teams on Division I easily. Got a lot of pros, and I think that's why we're so good.
"That's why we're making it to the national championship game. And that's what we're going to need in the championship game, too, as well."
Sophomore guard Marcus Sasser scored 20 points for the Cougars, who shot 38.2 percent from the field. The Bears shot 52.7 percent.
Baylor seized control with a 16-3 run midway through the first half, doing so largely without Butler, whose 3-pointer with 10:43 left was just his second field goal yet stretched the lead to 22-11. Butler then caught fire, adding a three-point play with 8:35 left in the half, back-to-back 3s and a layup with 4:09 left to complete his individual surge.
Mitchell, meanwhile, scored twice inside the final minute of the half, and his 3-pointer just before the buzzer gave Baylor a 45-20 lead.
"Baylor is clearly the best team that we've played," Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. "They might be the best team we've played in the seven years I've been here.
"They're really, really good."
The Cougars were overmatched outside of Sasser, who scored 17 points prior to the intermission. Houston went more than six minutes without a field goal between two Sasser baskets and, excluding Sasser, shot 1 of 15 with nine turnovers in the first half.
Guards Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau, integral cogs for Houston offensively, were a combined 1-for-12 with six turnovers in the first half. Baylor, meanwhile, shot 16-for-28 and limited Houston to just 11 rebounds and three second-chance points prior to the intermission.
"Houston coming into the game, I think it was like 62-27, they were up, second-chance points in the tournament," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "And the guys that don't always get their names in the paper for scoring points did an unbelievable job on the glass. The guards did a great job rebounding on the glass. And really proud of their effort."
Houston fashioned a 12-3 run early in the second half, with Grimes' stepback jumper cutting the deficit to 52-36 with 13:06 remaining. But Baylor remained in complete control down the stretch.
Grimes finished with 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting to join Sasser in double figures for Houston, which was participating in its first Final Four since 1984.
"The three seniors we had, they led us and they taught us a lot for the upcoming years for the young guys," Sasser said of Jarreau and forwards Justin Gorham and Fabian White Jr. "We had a great run and just fell short this year."
--Field Level Media