Everything that was so easy last weekend in the NCAA tournament became incredibly difficult when the Bears ran into Wisconsin.
Baylor headed home from the West Region semifinals with a 69-52 loss Thursday night, still wondering how everything went so wrong so quickly.
"Wisconsin really played a great game, and we did a very poor job in making things tough," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, who still led his team to a strong finish after its 2-8 start to Big 12 play. "They're extremely hard to pressure and rattle. ... Once we got behind, we had to do some things we wished we didn't have to do."
Frank Kaminsky scored 19 points and blocked six shots while Wisconsin romped into the West Regional final, reaching the final eight for the third time in school history. Ben Brust hit three of the six 3-pointers from the second-seeded Badgers (29-7), who jumped to a 14-point lead in the first half and never let up on the overmatched Bears (26-12).
Cory Jefferson scored 15 points for the sixth-seeded Bears in their third Sweet 16 trip in five years. Isaiah Austin and Kenny Chery scored 12 points apiece for Baylor, which needed a late rally just to match its lowest-scoring performance of the season in the final seconds.
"They know we're a great shooting team, and credit to them," Chery said. "They did a great job just containing us and making every shot difficult."
Kaminsky and his disciplined teammates shredded the Baylor zone that played so well against Nebraska and Creighton. And though the Bears lamented several easy missed shots in the first half, Wisconsin also methodically shut down Baylor's talented offense.
Wisconsin moved into its second regional final in 13 years under coach Bo Ryan, who has seen just about everything except the Final Four in his 700-win coaching career.
"That would be a very special thing to do, but we also know that he's not going to let us look too far ahead," said Brust, who scored 14 points. "When that time comes, we'll handle it. I'd definitely like to do that for him."
The Badgers advanced by countering everything the Bears do well. Wisconsin wrecked Baylor's zone, negated their 3-point shooting acumen with perimeter defense, kept the tempo at the Badgers' preferred speed and even held a 39-33 rebounding edge on Baylor, one of the nation's top rebounding teams.
Ryan put on a bit of a coaching clinic, but that's nothing new. The Wisconsin folk hero has led the Badgers to an NCAA tournament berths in each of his 13 seasons, but only got this close to the Final Four in 2005.
"We get 40 more minutes, and I'm awfully proud of them," Ryan said.
Baylor's flexible zone defense was the talk of college hoops last week. With a few days to prepare, Ryan clearly figured out exactly how to beat it.
The Badgers got multiple open looks on nearly every possession in the first half, moving the ball around the perimeter for open 3-point attempts or getting it down low to Kaminsky, who scored eight of Wisconsin's first 10 points. Brust hit two 3-pointers in the first half, and only a few open misses prevented Wisconsin from blowing it open early.
On the other end, the Bears had little of the poise they showed in their first two games. Baylor missed 12 of its first 15 shots and fell behind by 14 late in the half.
Baylor finally abandoned the zone early in the second half, but Traevon Jackson hit a 3-pointer for Wisconsin on the next possession. The Bears showed their athleticism and skill with several one-man drives to the hoop in the second half, but the Badgers calmly stuck to their plan in a blowout win.
"In the first two games of the tournament, we made it really tough to finish in there," Drew said. "(Kaminsky) was able to score inside, so once that happened, then it caved in the defense a little bit, and they really shot the ball well."
Wisconsin advanced to face the winner of top-seeded Arizona's meeting with San Diego State in the regional final Saturday at Honda Center. The Badgers haven't been to the Final Four since retired coach Dick Bennett got them there in 2000.
Kaminsky added another remarkable performance to his junior season with the Badgers, racking up 10 points and four blocked shots while Wisconsin took a 29-16 lead into halftime. Wisconsin held Baylor to a season-low in first-half points.