No. 1 Baylor eased past No. 2 Houston with an emphatic 78-59 win Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to become the first top-seeded team this year to earn a berth to Monday’s national championship game.
Baylor (27-2), which won the Big 12 regular season championship, carries a five-game win streak into the title game. The Bears will face the winner of Saturday night’s No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 11 UCLA matchup at 9 p.m. on Monday (CBS).
Houston’s 59 points were a season low.
“It’s just a great night for my teammates and what they’ve done,” Baylor leading scorer Jared Butler said. “We came out strong. We came out fired up. We really locked in defensively, and that was a big key in the game. I think it’s just my Lord and Savior in me. Some nights shots are going to fall, but either way, I’m trusting Him. All glory to Him.”
Houston’s defense allowed a season-high 45 points during a first half in which Baylor dominated nearly every statistical category. The Bears connected on 16 of their 28 (57.1%) attempts from the field through the first 20 minutes. They accumulated nine more rebounds and made three more attempts from behind the arc in the first half.
“It was a great start,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Guys really playing with poise, sharing the ball, making extra passes. But the big thing was we really guarded (in the) first half."
Butler recorded 17 points in the first half, just three shy of Houston’s 20.
“I’m a shooter,” Butler said. “Sometimes the ball goes in, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just about me staying confident through it all, and tonight the ball went in. … Thankfully the ball went in when we needed it most.”
Marcus Sasser accounted for 17 of Houston’s points in the opening half. DeJon Jarreau added a field goal, and Justin Gorham contributed one free throw for the Cougars (28-4).
Baylor limited Sasser to a layup and a free throw in the second half, as he finished with a team-high 20 points.
Houston’s 25-point halftime deficit was the fourth largest in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Quentin Grimes, the Cougars’ leading scorer this season, was 0-for-5 from the floor during the first half.
"The locker room right now is emotional,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We ran into a good team and didn't play very well, but they had a lot to do with that."
Grimes recorded his first points of the contest with a 3-pointer at the 18:23 mark in the second half and ended with 13 points to give Houston two double-figure scorers.
Grimes averaged 17.9 points ahead of Sunday’s Final Four contest.
Eighteen-year Baylor coach Drew takes the Bears to just their second NCAA championship game. Baylor in 1948 lost to Kentucky in the title game. It continues a successful homecoming for Drew, who was raised in Valparaiso, Indiana, and graduated from Butler University, where he was a student manager on the basketball team.
Baylor’s Davion Mitchell finished with 12 points and 11 assists against no turnovers. Matthew Mayer also contributed 12 points. Teammates MaCio Teague and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua tallied 11 points apiece.
The Bears shot 29-of-55 (52.7%) from the field and outrebounded the Cougars, 33-28.
Saturday marked Houston’s first appearance in the Final Four since 1984. The Cougars defeated Cleveland State, Rutgers, Syracuse and Oregon State during their tournament run.
"Baylor is clearly the best team we've played all season,” Sampson said. “They are probably the best team I've faced in my seven years at Houston."