FAYETTEVILLE - What the Baylor Bears do well the Arkansas Razorbacks have done well and well
for the most part, occasionally, not so hot, Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman confessed.
The difference has Coach Scott Drew’s Big 12 champion Bears, 25-2 and seeded No. 1 and SEC runner-up Arkansas, 25-6 and seeded No. 3 going into tonight’s Elite Eight South Regional final tipping off at 8:57 CDT on CBS television at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Tonight’s winner advances to Saturday’s Final Four semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium vs. tonight’s 6:15 CBS televised Midwest Regional final between the Oregon State Beaver and Houston Cougars at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With five frequent 3-point shooters hitting 39 percent or better, Baylor leads the nation in 3-point shooting, an incredible 40.7 percent making 270 of 662 attempted treys.
“Obviously, we can't give up threes,” Musselman said during Sunday’s press conference in Indianapolis. “It's an area that some games we've been great at when we played Alabama in Bud Walton (an 81-66 victory over the SEC champion) and other games we've stunk at defending the three like we did at Alabama (a 90-59 Arkansas loss) in Tuscaloosa. So, somewhere we've got to guard the three and you've got to guard them off the bounce."
Actually Baylor stunk shooting threes (3 of 19) in its 62-51 South Regional semifinal victory over Villanova last Saturday.
However the Bears defense forcing 16 Villanova turnovers while Baylor only committed six and outscored the Wildcats 22-4 off miscues made for a Bear market into tonight’s final.
“I thought Villanova did a really good job for the first 28 minutes of the game, and then all of a sudden Baylor turned up their defensive intensity and started causing turnovers,” Musselman said.
“So we’re going to have to avoid any catastrophic turnovers and try to get shots on goal. Take care of the basketball … I mean, you put that thing on the deck and they’ll swarm to you.”
Arkansas has mostly (397 turnovers vs 474 for its opponents) handled the ball well this season but not always.
Though not with Baylor’s offensive talent, Texas Tech of the Big 12 in Arkansas’ 68-66 second round South Regional victory in Indianapolis seems to have posed much of the defensive challenge that Baylor poses tonight.
“I do think there's some similarities defensively as far as toughness,” Musselman said. “As far as the physicality. Both Baylor and Texas Tech are both very physical defensive teams. So, I think there are some similarities we can draw on.”
But whereas the Hogs were mostly concerned with just two gunners, guard Max Abmas and forward Kevin Obanor, in their 72-70 South Regional semifinal Saturday over the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, they’ve got a bevy of Bears to defend. Baylor starting guards Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell all can hit sprees of threes and respectively average 16.6, 15.7 and 14.1 points.
Reserve Matthew Mayer has nailed 27 of 67 treys.
Reserve guard Adam Flagler, bailing out the Bears with a team-leading 16 points against Villanova, has hit 40 of 98 treys.
“I can go all the way down the line,” Musselman said citing Baylor’s prowess. “They’re all great shooters. They can beat you off the bounce. They defend as perimeter players. Their bigs understand their roles. This is just a really, really difficult team to prepare for. It looks like they have incredible chemistry, and their roles are clearly defined by the coaching staff. That's why this team is 25-2 and one of the best teams in the country.”
All true, but Drew hasn’t indelibly inked his Bears past Arkansas’ comeback kids into Saturday’s Final Four.
Arkansas had to rally for its three South Regional victories over Colgate and Oral Roberts and fend off Texas Tech.
“Muss has done a great job with them, 12-1 in their last 13 games, so basically the hottest team in the country besides (unbeaten national No. 1) Gonzaga,” Drew said. “So we’re playing a team that has a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence and they really get after you. It doesn’t matter if you’re up or down, they’re never out of it with their athleticism and toughness.”
Arkansas has star power in projected NBA lottery pick and SEC Freshman of the Year guard Moses Moody, and graduate transfer forward Justin Smith, 27 points/ 12 rebounds vs. Colgate, 20 points, 6 rebounds vs. Texas Tech and 12 points/14 rebounds vs. ORU.
But others have played huge. Whether it’s freshman center Jaylin Williams with 10 rebounds against Texas Tech; point guard Jalen Tate, 22 points and six assists against ORU or defensive demon Davonte “Devo” Davis, delivering the game-winning shot with 3.1 seconds left against ORU among his 16 points and eight rebounds.
Sixth man JD Notae tallied 14 points against Colgate and junior reserve guard Desi Sills grabbed six big rebounds against ORU.
Drew says he prepares for an Arkansas team capable of exploding offensively and undoing others defensively as Baylor has done.
“Arkansas does a tremendous job in forcing turnovers and getting easies on the other end because of that,” Drew said. “I know both coaches will preach the same thing: ‘Don’t turn it over and when you do, get back.’ Whichever team gets more easy buckets obviously has a better chance of winning.”
As of Sunday afternoon, Las Vegas odds cast Arkansas as a 7-point underdog to reach its first Final Four since Nolan Richardson’s 1994 national champions and 1995 national runner-ups.
Tonight’s Elite Eight final marks the deepest that Baylor has ever advanced.
F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 13.7 pts. 7.3 rebs.
C-Jaylin Williams 6-10 Fr. 3.5 4.7
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.9 3.8
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 17.0 5.8
G-Davonte Davis 6-3 Fr. 8.3 4.4
F-Mark Vital 6-5 Sr.. 5.7 pts. 6.8 rebs.
C-Flo Thamba 6-10 Jr. 3.6 3.9
G-Jared Butler 6-3 Jr.. 16.6 3.3
G-Davion Mitchell 6-2 Jr. 14.1 2.6
G- MaCio Teague 6-4 Sr. 15.7 4.1