Villanova gave Baylor fits for 30 minutes by slowing them down. Arkansas gave the Bears trouble by speeding them up.
Ultimately, neither style worked in the end. Scott Drew’s team can win fast or slow, and it is now two wins away from a national championship.
The top seed in the South Region, Baylor built a big early lead, lost most of it, and took over late in a hard-fought 81-72 victory over No. 3 Arkansas, moving on to the Final Four for the first time since 1950.
After losing in the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012, Baylor will get to play on the sport’s biggest stage. It will meet Midwest Region champion No. 2 Houston in a national semifinal Saturday night.
The big three of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler and MaCio Teague each had their moments, combining for 48 points and 11 assists, and Baylor’s revitalized defense took charge late, holding Arkansas without a made field goal for 8:15 down the stretch. Mark Vital’s follow slam put an exclamation point on the victory, capping a 10-1 run to extend the lead to 13 with 2:44 remaining.
Down 18 in the first half, Arkansas got within five early in the second half. Its momentum, then, stalled. JT Notae, who had keyed a first-half surge, was called for three fouls in a span of 1:44, and was lost for the game as a result. In that time, Mitchell found his rhythm, scoring four points in a 7-0 run to push the Baylor edge back to 12.
But like the first half, Arkansas wouldn’t stay down. It responded with eight consecutive points to get within four with 9:34 left, sending a message it wasn’t going anywhere.
When Mitchell was called for his third foul and Baylor up 15 with 8:21 remaining in the first half, it created an opening for Arkansas. It outscored Baylor by seven points to close the half, finally creating transition opportunities by getting stops and forcing turnovers. At one point, it hit six consecutive shots from the field, picking up momentum after the Bears seemed primed for a blowout.
If not for a 5-for-10 shooting performance at the free-throw line, the margin would’ve been closer than eight at the break. Still, considering the poor start — Arkansas trailed 29-11 at one point — the Razorbacks were in decent position.
Early on, they had no answer for Baylor’s three guards. Mitchell, Teague and Butler were penetrating at will, creating easy opportunities for their teammates at the rim and making Arkansas pay for its over-aggressiveness. It started 11 of 16 from the field and scored 28 points in the first 8:33 of action.
But when Mitchell went out, forcing Butler to play on the ball, Baylor’s attack slowed down. It failed to produce a made field goal over the final 4:10, and those empty possessions led to easy baskets for the Razorbacks.
While Teague and Butler starred over the first 20 minutes for Baylor, combining for 23 points on 8 of 15 shooting, Arkansas’ supporting cast got it back in the game. Moses Moody managed just one point on two shot attempts, but Notae filled his scoring void, notching a team-high 12 points off the bench, and Jalen Tate added nine points.