There is an O in Baylor. There’s no D. That’s what it seemed like in the final weeks of college basketball regular season, as the Bears lost an unbeaten record, a Big 12 Tournament championship and their status as a co-favorites with Gonzaga to win the 2021 NCAA Title.
The defense that had terrorized opponents from the start of the 2019-20 season in the middle of it was lacking, until it was not.
Villanova dominated Baylor for 28 minutes of their Southern Region semi-final on Saturday, but the dozen minutes held by the Bears were enough to produce a 62-51 victory that posed a threat to every other team still alive. in the NCAA tournament.
“It was the plan for the whole game, but in the second half it worked better,” Baylor coach Scott Drew told reporters after the game. “Forcing Villanova to 16 turnover; I don’t know when the last time they had 16 turnovers, but normally they’re six, seven or eight.
“I always know they have it in them. They have shown me this over the years. In the past two years, we’ve won more games than any Power 5 team in the country. They therefore deserved this right; they have earned that trust. Now, that doesn’t guarantee that you are going to go out and win. This does not guarantee that you are going to play a great second half. “
Baylor’s revitalization as a basketball program began with defense. The Bears had the fourth defense of the 2019-20 season and they’ve broken teams in any way they can. They ranked among the best for stealing, blocks, defending opponents’ shots and rebounding their failures.
This character was still around at the start of this season, so even if he had dried out, it seemed rational to believe that when this season was in play, he would bloom again.
Against Villanova, it happened at half-time. The Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field, 38 percent on 3 points and built a 30-23 lead at the break.
Bears didn’t completely change their personalities until they changed their defense. At around 12:20 p.m., after playing the man’s defense just long enough to yield a thunderous dunk to Brandon Slater which made three Bears defenders as victims, they moved on to a combat zone that left the Wildcats in awe.
Villanova converted just 38 percent of her field goal attempts, missed all nine three-pointers, returned the ball nine times and scored just 21 points. They moved the ball well in the first two possessions against the game, creating an open 3 on the right side for Cole Swider and Chris Arcidiacono, but neither fell. Then the Wildcats broke, too often dribbling through traffic for turnovers or forcing quick, contested shots.
“We did a very good job staying in front of our man,” US guard Davion Mitchell told reporters. “And we knew the defense was going to turn offensive. And that’s what he did.
“I felt I had to put more pressure on the ball. … Mainly because these guys are really good one-on-one. They play the right games most of the time. If I can disrupt the attack and tip them over to the other side and waste time, that will help us. Justin Moore is a very good guard. I just tried to make it difficult for him and we won.
Many had traced Baylor’s defense decline to the three-week COVID hiatus that impacted the program. And certainly the D wasn’t A-OK after all this free time.
However, it didn’t take much research to find out that the Bears had started sliding that side of the ball even before their schedule came to a halt for so much of February. Entering Saturday’s game, they had allowed each of their eight major opponents after the break to score at least one point per possession. But they had done the same in both games just before this break.
Maybe it was just a touch of competitive fatigue. They were dominating the Big 12. They had put so much energy into their defense last season to see the season come to an end with the NCAA tournament being canceled. There were still six weeks until this year’s March Madness started, assuming it did.
They had reached a point with the power of their offense where he was able to lead them through even the toughest games of the Big 12. They had climbed to third in the country in terms of offensive efficiency due to their strength. ridiculous accuracy of 3 points, which ranked No. 2 in Division I, and they were able to beat teams such as Kansas and Oklahoma State. It wasn’t going to work against Villanova, and this time there was no room for error.
“We knew if we wanted to win we had to flip them over, we had to make them uncomfortable,” Mitchell said. “It’s a really fundamental team. They don’t return the ball. It is the No. 1 team in the country not to return the ball. So we knew that to win we had to get them out of their comfort zone. And we’ve done a really good job on it.
Baylor is back. Yes, that Baylor: the one many believed could win an NCAA Championship in 2020, the one that looked like a bet just to tie Gonzaga’s undefeated regular season until the shutdown exacerbated a defensive slip into a slip.
Now it’s a force again.