INDIANAPOLIS — Baylor coach Scott Drew’s return to the Hoosier state is going about as well he could have planned.
The Bears are back to creating havoc on defense and playing crisp on offense. On Sunday, South Region top-seed Baylor moved on to the Sweet 16, holding off nine-seed Wisconsin 76-63 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Baylor (24-2) raced to a 19-point lead in the second half and held off numerous Wisconsin comeback attempts. Wisconsin cut Baylor’s lead to 61-55 on a three-point play by freshman guard Jonathan Davis with 7:25 remaining, but the Bears finished the Badgers off with a 9-2 run, highlighted by one-handed dunk by Baylor senior swingman Mark Vital on an alley-oop play.
Baylor scored 16 points off 14 Wisconsin turnovers and posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 15-4.
“Our guys did a great job taking care of the basketball,” Drew said. “Every coach in the country would take four turnovers and smile every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
For the 50-year-old Drew, a rumored Indiana basketball coaching candidate, it was a return to the Butler campus, where he was a student basketball manager and played on the school’s tennis team. Drew grew up in Valparaiso, where his father, Homer Drew, was Valparaiso’s long-time basketball coach. Scott Drew coached at Valparaiso for a year before taking over as Baylor’s coach in 2003.
Drew is leading Baylor to its fifth Sweet 16 appearance in his 18 years as coach. He’s been to the Elite Eight twice, but never reached a Final Four. With All-American guard Jared Butler leading the way, Baylor has a team that could finally break through and play in April.
Butler and junior guard Davion Mitchell each scored 16 points, and Baylor received a strong contribution off the bench from junior forward Matthew Mayer.
There has been adversity along the way. Baylor won its first 17 games before a three-week COVID-19 pause in February. The Bears returned from the pause with a sluggish 77-72 win over Iowa State, then suffered its first loss, falling 71-58 at Kansas.
Baylor’s defense slipped post-pandemic pause as the Bears allowed 70 or more points in six of their seven games leading into the NCAA Tournament. But the Bears have been locked in so far in their first tournament games, allowing an average of 59 points in wins over Hartford and Wisconsin.
Drew said while the COVID-19 pause took Baylor out of its rhythm, it also brought his team closer together and renewed its sense of purpose.
“When you are away from the game for three weeks, watching everyone else play it makes you hungrier to be back together and to be playing,” Drew said. “I do think we’re back to where we were prior to the pause defensively. In the team room, when we spend time with each other, it’s a blessing.”
LIDDELL REPORTS THREATS
After two-seed Ohio State’s 75-72 upset loss to 15-seed Oral Roberts on Friday, star sophomore Buckeye forward E.J. Liddell was the victim of threats on social media.
Liddell, who scored 23 points in the loss, posted the threats on his Twitter account, with the following response:
“Honestly, what did I do to deserve this? I’m human,” Liddell wrote. “Comments don’t get to me but I just wanna know why. I’ve never done anything to anyone in my life to be approached like this. This is not me saying anything negative about Ohio State fans. I love you all dearly and I’ve felt nothing but appreciated since the first day I stepped on campus.”
According to ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf, Ohio State has reached out to law enforcement to investigate the threats.
TRICE DOUBTFUL TO RETURN
All five of Wisconsin’s senior starters could return next season due to the NCAA’s ruling granting players an extra year of eligibility.
But at least one of those starters made it sound as if he won’t be back next season. Wisconsin All-Big Ten point guard D’mtrick Trice spoke in the past tense about his career following Wisconsin’s season-ending 76-63 loss to Baylor on Sunday.
“It’s tough to go out like that as a senior,” Trice said. “Time really flies by. I know I’ve been here for a while, and a lot of guys are probably tired of seeing my face. It really felt like it was a blur. I was excited to be here, and I’m still excited to be part of the Badger family. I’ll always be a Badger.”
ELSEWHERE IN THE SOUTH
• No. 3 Arkansas (24-6) used a 29-12 run on either side of halftime to take control and held on for a 68-66 win against No. 6 Texas Tech (18-11). Justin Smith led the Razorbacks with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
• A popular upset pick because of injuries, No. 5 Villanova (18-6) hit 15 3-pointers to end the Cinderella run of No. 13 North Texas (18-10) in an 84-61 rout. The Wildcats will make their seventh Sweet 16 appearance under coach Jay Wright.