Final Four: Baylor's first-half flurry propels Bears over Houston and into national title game

Nick Bromberg
·4-min read

Baylor quickly made it clear that it would be playing for the national title on Monday night. 

The Bears went on an incredible 29-9 run over the final 12:48 of the first half to take a commanding halftime lead in a comfortable 78-59 win over Houston in Saturday's semifinals of the men's Final Four.

Houston pulled within five points of Baylor at 16-11 with less than 13 minutes to go in the half. Baylor's lead was 10 less than two minutes later and expanded to 20 over the next 10 minutes. Two baskets in the final minute of the first half gave Baylor a 45-20 halftime lead and sucked all the drama out of the game. 

If Houston wanted to have a chance to beat Baylor it needed to do what it does best. The Cougars are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and rebounding is one of Baylor's (relative) weaknesses. But rebounding doesn't accomplish much when you can't put points on the board — even if you're out-rebounding your opponent. 

Houston shot 27% from the field in the first half and got out-rebounded by nine. 

Yeah, it was that kind of night for the Cougars.

"I thought we came in really focused and the guys came out and executed the game plan," Baylor coach Scott Drew told CBS after the game. "God blessed us, we made some shots and we knew Houston wasn't ever going to go away. They're too well-coached, too disciplined, and second half just really proud of our guys that we never let that run that put the game in jeopardy."

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 03: Jared Butler #12 of the Baylor Bears reacts in the second half against the Houston Cougars during the 2021 NCAA Final Four semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 03, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jared Butler led Baylor's first-half charge. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Baylor led by Jared Butler

Jared Butler was a huge part of Baylor’s run in the first half. The Big 12 Player of the Year had 17 points in the first 20 minutes and was 4-of-5 from behind the 3-point line.

Those 17 first-half points were more than Butler had scored in any of the first four games of the NCAA tournament so far. Butler’s best-scoring game of the tournament had been a 16-point outing against Wisconsin. And he entered the Final Four shooting just 25% on threes thanks to a combined 2-of-17 shooting effort against Villanova and Hartford.

With Butler on point — he shoots over 40% from deep — Baylor is a worthy adversary for Gonzaga. 

Bears' passing was phenomenal

Houston's strengths are its rebounding and defense. And that's why it wasn't crazy to think that the Cougars could hang around with the Bears for a while or even win the game outright. The spread was two possessions.

Baylor made sure that the game wasn't a contest thanks to its passing. The Bears rifled the ball round the court so quickly and with such precision that players like Butler had plenty of open shots. No college defense in the country would have been capable of stopping Baylor's ball movement on Saturday. Baylor finished the game with 23 assists on 29 field goals. 

Sasser shines, other Houston stars struggle

Houston got a big game from Marcus Sasser but didn't get much else from Quentin Grimes and DeJon Jarreau.

While Jarreau provided the first highlight of the game when he jumped over Butler on the first possession, he finished with just six points. Grimes, meanwhile, went scoreless in the first half. Some production from the former five-star recruit and Kansas transfer could have kept Houston with Baylor. Instead, the Cougars' leading scorer was 0-of-5 from the floor and seemed hesitant through much of the half. 

Sasser, meanwhile. singlehandedly prevented the game from being even more of a blowout early. He had a remarkable 17 of Houston's 20 first-half points thanks to five threes.

Baylor going for first national title

Baylor has been to the national championship game once before. That came in 1948 when the Bears beat Washington and Kansas State to advance to the title game against Kentucky. But the Wildcats won that game, 58-42.

If this Bears team plays anything like it did on Saturday night, it’s not losing by 16 points on Monday.

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