By Jordan Morey | @JordanAMorey
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — As the sun set through the windows on the west end of historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, Baylor men’s basketball coach Scott Drew jogged back onto the hardwood, smiling and waving to the Bears faithful still in attendance.
While the top-seeded Bears had been heavily favored in their matchup with No. 5 Villanova, blotches of Baylor green and gold could be seen spread throughout the basketball cathedral on Butler University’s campus as the arena emptied.
Drew and the Baylor fans know the 2020-21 team is one of the best in the program’s history, and the numbers support that, but now they’re on the threshold of an accomplishment 71 years in the making — and they’re savoring every second of it.
Gutting out a 62-51 victory over Villanova in the South Regional semifinals, Baylor (25-2) guaranteed its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2012 on Saturday. Monday’s regional final will mark the fifth in the program’s history, including the third under Drew, who has led the program since 2003.
Adam Flagler came off the Baylor bench to lead the Bears with 16 points, nearly twice his average. Flagler scored 11 points in the second half. Davion Mitchell scored 10 of his 14 in the second half. But Mitchell, who made 45% of his 3-point attempts this season, was 0 for 3 from behind the line. Jared Butler was held to nine points and 4-for-14 shooting, and MaCio Teague was held to five points, less than one-third of his average.
Villanova (18-7) was led by Jermaine Samuels, who scored 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting and 8-of-8 foul shooting.
Baylor’s previous trips to the Elite Eight under Drew ended in heartbreak for Baylor, as the Bears lost to a pair of eventual national champions. The 2010 squad fell to No. 1 Duke 78-71 and the 2012 team lost to No. 1 Kentucky 82-70 in the regional final game.
This time, however, the outlook is much different for the Bears. A No. 1 seed in the tournament for the first time in team history, Drew said he hopes the experiences learned over the past decade will push the program to its first Final Four since 1950 and third overall.
“Every team in the country wants to go to a Final Four,” Drew said. “We’re on the verge of that. I think in life, experiences always teach you lessons and different things. And hopefully our staff will be able to prepare our guys and put them in a good position through the two experiences in the Elite Eights before.”
Drew is feeling right at home with this year’s tournament in Indiana and his team’s last two games at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Bears’ head coach was a student manager at Butler before graduating in 1993. After earning his degree, Drew was hired as an assistant coach at Valparaiso University from 1993-2002 under his father, Homer, a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Scott served for one year as head coach at Valparaiso in 2002-03 before taking the Baylor job, and his brother Bryce, who is currently the head coach at Grand Canyon University, also coached the Crusaders from 2003-2007. Bryce also is famously known for hitting “the shot,” which lifted No. 13 Valparaiso past No. 4 Ole Miss in the 1998 tournament.
Under the three Drews, from 1988 to 2016, Valpo made nine NCAA tournament appearances and won 13 regular season conference championships.
In their game against Villanova, the Big 12 champions battled through some adversity.
Baylor — which led the country in 3-point percentage with 41.52% — shot just 2-for-12 from beyond the arc in the first half and trailed the Wildcats 30-23 at intermission. Out of the break, the Bears offense attacked the paint to chip away at the deficit while also buckling down on defense, holding the Wildcats to just 37% shooting in the final 20 minutes, to come back for the win.
As they have all season, the Bears relied on their depth to find a way to win, as their bench outscored Villanova 24-6.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who led his program to national championships in both 2016 and 2018, said that Baylor has what it takes to take the next step.
“They’re an outstanding team, and Scott Drew is a great coach,” Wright said. “And they’re just a really good team, definitely a team capable of winning a national championship. And they have a lot of great teams to play, but they’re definitely capable of winning it.”
While the Bears feel confident going into their next game against No 3 Arkansas, they aren’t going to take anything for granted.
“(Making the Elite Eight) means a lot,” Mitchell said. “We put in a lot of work, a lot of time. Our whole life we’ve been working for this moment. I think we just love to win…So, we’re just going to keep playing our hardest and go 1-0 each day.”
There have been plenty of upsets so far this tournament, and Drew knows a seed is just a number.
“First and foremost, in basketball, why March Madness is March Madness and why no one can get a perfect bracket after the first weekend is because if you’re blessed enough to make the tournament, it’s really hard to win and advance in the tournament,” Drew siad. “And you never take that for granted. And every time you have an opportunity to do something like this, especially after last year where there was no NCAA Tournament, so many of our guys came back to be a part of this and play in this. And we can’t thank the NCAA enough for making sure we had a tournament this year.”