INDIANAPOLIS – Baylor reached the Final Four for the first time in 71 years, getting 22 points from MaCio Teague and a dominating defensive performance from Davion Mitchell to beat Arkansas 81-72 on Monday night.
The South Region final was a reunion of former Southwest Conference programs aiming to join another (Houston) in the Final Four.
The top-seeded Bears (26-2) had not been able to get over the Elite Eight hump in two previous tries under Scott Drew and appeared to be barreling toward a blowout.
The Razorbacks (25-7) revved up the Mus Bus after some early sputtering, trimming an 18-point lead down to four.
The Bears ran away from there, right into next weekend’s Final Four against the Cougars.
Mitchell led the stiff-arm charge as Arkansas missed 12 straight shots and Teague hit a pair of 3-pointers to put it out of reach.
JD Notae and Davonte Davis had 14 apiece for the Razorbacks, who came up one game short of their first Final Four in 26 years.
The expected fast-twitch South Region final was going to be a drought-ender, just a matter of how long.
The Razorbacks had not clawed this far down the bracket since playing in the 1995 national title game. Coach Eric Musselman has put them in hyperdrive during his two seasons, conjuring up the kind of excitement not seen in Fayetteville since the Nolan Richardson “40 Minutes of Hell” days.
Baylor had been in this spot before under Drew, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012. Both brackets runs ended in flameouts to the eventual national champions, leaving the Bears short of the Final Four dating back to when the bracket was only eight teams.
The Bears repeatedly beat the Razorbacks off the dribble to lead by 12 barely four minutes in, then on backdoor cuts to stretch it to 18.
The Mus Bus, just like it had twice before in March, found the right gear to climb out of the hole.
Mitchell’s third foul was the turning point.
When the head of Baylor’s defensive snake went to the bench with about 8 minutes left, Arkansas took advantage by beating the Bears off the dribble and getting to the rim.
The Razorbacks hit 10 of 11 shots during one stretch to pull within 44-38 and were down just eight at halftime despite struggling for a long stretch.