No. 1 Baylor Hangs on to Beat No. 5 Villanova to Advance to Elite Eight

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2021

Baylor head coach Scott Drew yells instructions against Villanova in the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
AJ Mast/Associated Press

Baylor is going to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2012.

The Bears advanced with a 62-51 win over the Villanova Wildcats in Saturday's Sweet 16 showdown at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Davion Mitchell and the overall team defense led the way for the victorious No. 1 seed in the South Region.

Solid showings from Jermaine Samuels and Justin Moore weren't enough for the Wildcats, who were attempting to reach their third Elite Eight in six years.


Notable Player Stats

  • Davion Mitchell, G, BAY: 14 PTS, 2 STL
  • Adam Flagler, G, BAY: 16 PTS, 3 REB
  • Jermaine Samuels, F, NOVA: 16 PTS, 4 REB
  • Justin Moore, G, NOVA: 15 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST
  • Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, F, NOVA: 8 PTS, 12 REB


Baylor Wins With Second-Half Defense

On paper, this seemed like an ideal matchup for Baylor.

It came into play No. 3 in adjusted offense on KenPom.com and figured to exploit a Villanova defense that checked in at No. 72. In fact, only Oral Roberts and Syracuse have worse defenses among teams still in the Big Dance.

So much for an offensive show.

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Baylor lost its initial control of the game by going more than four minutes without a point as Villanova went on a 13-0 run. The Bears offense bogged down without any ball movement and cuts into open space, which resulted in nothing but contested looks and an ugly 23 points in the first half.

While the offense wasn't clicking, Baylor flipped the game by dialing up the defensive intensity in the second half. It started forcing turnovers, deflecting passes, trapping ball-handlers and contesting outside shots, which led to run-outs on the other end and easier looks for an offense that was largely struggling for extended stretches.

The Bears also seized the lead during the second half by crashing the offensive boards to keep their possessions alive and converting in the paint, which put even more pressure on Villanova's offense to figure things out as the game slipped away. 

Those efforts also helped Baylor overcome 3-of-19 (15.8 percent) shooting from deep and further drove home the point it is a championship contender. While it is known for its offense, the Big 12 team proved it can win on the defensive side in a pressure-packed scenario.


Second-Half Collapses Ends Dance for Villanova

Villanova has not found itself in the underdog role much in recent seasons, but this year's team has an underdog feel in March with Collin Gillespie sidelined by a torn MCL.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl has filled the void and averaged 20.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game in the Wildcats' first two tournament wins. The scoring is nothing new for the sophomore, but his ability to facilitate in Gillespie's absence has helped keep the Big East representative afloat.

While Robinson-Earl appeared well on his way to a double-double by controlling the lane as Villanova staked itself to a seven-point halftime lead, it was far from a solo effort.

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Samuels' ability to get to the free-throw line and Justin Moore's versatility while shooting from range, rebounding and even hitting teammates helped the Wildcats take advantage of space when Robinson-Earl drew additional attention.

Samuels did what he could to continue the momentum for the Wildcats in the second half, but everything started to slip away against Baylor's strong defense.

Villanova finished with 16 turnovers and shot a mere 3-of-17 (17.6 percent) from deep with the opposition hounding its every move. Brandon Slater also exited with an ankle injury, further hurting an already short-handed club, and it ended up with just 21 points after intermission.

Much of the credit goes to individual Baylor defenders such as Mitchell, who cut off every driving lane and swarmed the outside shooters, but the Wildcats team that set the tone in the first half was nowhere to be seen in the second half.


What's Next? 

The Bears face the winner of the game between No. 3 Arkansas and No. 15 Oral Roberts on Monday.