INDIANAPOLIS – Kelvin Sampson watched as Houston seemed on the verge of coming to a halt when a Baylor three-point attempt had a long rebound past the three-point arc.
Instead, the Bears lowered the ball and took it to MaCio Teague for a dunk as Sampson watched helplessly from the sideline with his hands on his hips.
Tough defense and relentless rebounding had been the identity of the Cougars when they reached their first Final Four in nearly four decades. It had also been enough to cover his shaking shots. But the Cougars struggled for rebounds, a failure of the most essential elements in Sampson’s successful rebuilding, in Saturday’s 78-59 loss to the Bears in the national semifinals.
Houston (28-4) had held teams to 55.8 points and 39% shooting in four games of the NCAA Tournament, while also rebounding opponents by more than nine per game. That included the shutdown of Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim and Ethan Thompson’s push that carried 12th-seeded Oregon State to a Southern Region final, while no opponent had scored more than 61 points.
The Cougars faced an entirely different challenge with Baylor and his elite guards and his plethora of 3-point shooters. And they struggled to keep up.
Baylor finished shooting 53% and made 11 of 24 3s, with Jared Butler leading an attack that moved the ball and got plenty of clean looks while keeping the Cougars’ physical defense on their heels.
They also surpassed and scored nearly all of their second-chance points, which had been a linchpin of their regional final victory against the Beavers, long after Baylor had a 25-point lead at halftime.
The only highlight was sophomore Marcus Sasser’s offensive performance in the first half, with 17 of his 20 points, while the rest of the team was a combined 1 of 15 from the field.
It was a brutal ending to the journey of a team that had reached the show’s first Final Four since 1984.
DeJon Jarreau, who had flirted with triple-doubles while leading defensive efforts in each of the past two games, walked away with 1:46 left and gave Sampson a long hug. The Kansas Quentin Grimes transfer followed shortly after, and both ended up huddled with their teammates in tears at the end of the bench as the final seconds of the season wore on.