Baylor reached the Final Four for the first time in 71 years, getting 22 points from MaCio Teague and a dominant defensive performance from Davion Mitchell to beat Arkansas 81-72 on Monday night.
The South Region finale was a reunion of former Southwestern Conference programs aimed at joining another (Houston) in the Final Four.
The seeded Bears (26-2) had not been able to overcome the Elite Eight bump in two previous tries under Scott Drew and appeared to be heading for a blowout.
The Razorbacks (25-7) accelerated the Mus Bus after a few spray starts, reducing an 18-point lead to four.
The Bears got away from there, straight into next weekend’s Final Four against the Cougars.
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Mitchell led the charge with a stiff arm as Arkansas missed 12 straight shots and Teague hit a pair of 3 pointers to put him out of reach.
JD Notae and Davonte Davis had 14 each for the Razorbacks, who won a game before their first Final Four in 26 years.
The expected final of the fast-twitch South region was going to be a drought, just a matter of time.
The Razorbacks hadn’t climbed this far in the range since playing in the 1995 national title game. Coach Eric Musselman put them on hyperdrive in his two seasons, reminiscent of the kind of excitement never seen in Fayetteville since the days of Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell”.
Baylor had been there before under Drew, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012. Both bracket races ended in extinctions to eventual national champions, leaving the Bears short of the Final Four dating back to when the bracket had only eight teams.
The Bears repeatedly beat the Razorbacks in dribbling to lead by 12 just four minutes, then backdoor cuts to stretch it to 18.
The Mus Bus, just like it had done twice before in March, found the right equipment to get out of the hole.
Mitchell’s third foul was the turning point.
When Baylor’s defensive snake head went to the bench with about 8 minutes left, Arkansas profited by beating the Bears out of the dribble and hitting the edge.
The Razorbacks had 10 of 11 shots in a streak to shoot 44-38 and lost just eight at halftime despite struggling for a long time.