Bearing down: Baylor routs Houston 78-59 to reach title game

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Baylor guard Jared Butler (12) passes over teammate guard Adam Flagler (10) and Houston forward Justin Gorham (4) during the first half of a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly two decades ago, Scott Drew decided to leave his comfort zone at tiny Valparaiso for the scandal-plagued basketball program at Baylor, explaining to his father that there was nowhere for the Bears to go but up.

Now, they’re one win away from the top.

Led by Jared Butler and the rest of their brilliant backcourt, a defense that refused to give Houston an inch and a coach intent on making the most of his first trip to the Final Four, the Bears roared to a 78-59 victory Saturday night in their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in 71 long years.

“Every day you're grinding, and you don't really look back. You're pressing forward,” Drew said, “but I'm so blessed to have these unbelievable players that bought into what we like to do with the program.”

Or, as Butler put it: “This is what we came to Baylor to do.”

Butler scored all 17 of his points in the first half, but just about everyone from Baylor (27-2) got into the act, with five players scoring in double figures. They built a 45-20 lead by halftime and coasted the rest of the way in the first Final Four showdown between schools from the Lone Star State.

Next up for the Bears is Gonzaga, the overall No. 1 seed, which beat UCLA 93-90 when Jalen Suggs banked in a buzzer-beater in overtime. Monday night's championship is a matchup that was supposed to take place in December, but that game was called off hours before tipoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Bulldogs program.

“They got pros, we got pros. They win a lot of games, we win a lot of games,” Butler said. "I think we match up pretty well."