INDIANAPOLIS – This men’s college basketball season saw the joy of an early season for Milan, a neutral site of sports aficionados, teams that prognosticators bluffed as the best in the nation – slick, high-powered against athletic Beiler Bears Gonzaga Bulogs.
It will be a measuring stick game in Indianapolis, providing an early peak here for cutting the trap in early April, which may be the most likely to return here.
And then, about 90 minutes before tipoff, the game was called off after two people at Gonzaga’s travel party tested positive for coronavirus. Instead of being the front-runner up, it gave an idea of what lay ahead for a season that progressed through a fit of months and began due to an epidemic.
Now, months later, that anticipated matchup came a step closer after a 62-51 walk past Vilnova at the Hink Fieldhouse on Saturday to advance to the South Regional Finals. The Beers, who have been to three regional finals in the past 11 seasons, but never made it to the final four, will play 15th seeded Oral Roberts and third seeded Lucas Oil Stadium in Arkansas on Monday.
But it is hard to imagine that the boiler is being tested more than Villanova.
The Wildcats, who saved their point guard and senior leader Coleen Gillespie from a knee injury prior to the season, performed brilliantly until they fell short of a stretchout, just before the postseason.
The Bears, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, survived the afternoon, making just 3 of 19 behind the arch. But he was saved by sophomore guard Adam Flailer, who came off the bench to score 16 points, and a physical defense that had eight steals. Jermaine Samuels scored 16 to lead Jermainova, with 14 points from Justin Moore as well.
Baylor has established itself as one of the better programs in the country, breaking Kans’ Struggle on the Big 12 last season and winning the regular season title again this season. But the Beers have lost twice in the round of 16 and twice in the round of 8 in the last 10 tournaments.
The way Villanova and Baylor took it out, two teams with elite talent took the first possession, as if it were the last, in contrast to Oregon State’s 65-58 win over Loya-Chicago, which resembled the junior Ancity bracket . Ethan Thompson scored 22 points to lead the Beavers, who continued their chances of competing in a regional final for the first time since 1982. Elected to finish last in the Pac-12 at the beginning of the season, he will play the winner of the Syracuse win over Houston late Saturday night.
Both Villanova and Beiler were devoid of routes this season by the Coronovirus. For Baylor, it was a weather concern. Coach Scott Drew missed two games and the Bears only played one of their first seven schedule games. Then in February, that time, unbeaten, was shut down for three weeks – a halt that was disruptive to their offensive rhythm and defensive cohesion. They lost twice, to the Big 12 tournament in Kansas and Oklahoma State.
However, the Bears regained their footing and their timing, too, was in the normal season compared to spending more time in practice in the last two weeks. Once Baylor was through the first weekend, Drew considered the stagnation a blessing.
“Nobody is on each other’s nerves or anything because there can be a grind during the February season,” he said. “And we had some time and got to reflect and said, man, it’s really fun to play to see everyone instead of playing.”
Meanwhile, Villanova had her long break – 27 days without a game.
But that was the least disruption for the Wildcats, who have suffered multiple injuries with the crippling loss to Gillespie. Senior captain forward Dhamer Cosby-Roundtree has not played a full season since his leg surgery. Brian Antoine was out to recover from shoulder surgery in early February and Moore injured his ankle in the game following Gillespie’s injury.
Villenova made a soft zone press throw into the boiler several times on Saturday and when Byers joined his offense, the Wildcats toggled between zone and man-to-man defense in half the court.
Gillespie’s defeat made it mandatory that Villanova leaned more on a defense that was on foot – and somewhat worse against 3-point shooting. The Wildcats this season allowed opponents to shoot the worst, among the teams reaching 86th and 16 rounds in the nation, behind 34.9 percent.
The Beaurals did not look like a one-of-a-kind matchup as the Bears were the most efficient 3-point shooting team in the country, making up 41.5 percent of their shots.
But Villanova’s perimeter defenders did not repeatedly buy pump fakes, and Baylor’s guard trio – Jared Butler, Makio Teague and Davion Mitchell – hesitated. When they were disappointed – Byers missed 17 of his first 19 3-point attempts – the Wildcats, relying on slick interior passing, stayed in the lead.
When Brandon Slater landed Jonathan Tchamwa Tchathatoua on the wing and dipped over 6-foot-9 Matthew Mayer, it pushed Villanova ahead 39-33.
Instead of desecrating the beers, it appeared to inspire them.
He alleviated defensive pressure and began receiving the rim. With a score of 41, Byers forced three consecutive turnovers, leading to three consecutive layoffs, a spinning drive by the final mayor that put Beers ahead to stay.
Alan blinder Contributed to reporting.