They were outplayed inside. They were missing the few outside looks they got. And, quite simply, they were playing a better all-around team.
Baylor never had a chance against Wisconsin on Thursday night. The Badgers pulled away early and didn’t relent, rolling to a 69-52 victory at the Honda Center.
The victory puts Wisconsin into the Elite Eight, where it’ll meet the Arizona-San Diego State winner on Saturday in the West Regional final with a trip to the Final Four in Arlington on the line.
Wisconsin last reached the Elite Eight in 2005 and last reached the Final Four in 2000.
Baylor, meanwhile, falls short of its goal to get to nearby Arlington.
“It’s killing me,” sophomore center Isaiah Austin said. “We’ve got guys on this team that want to win and guys on this team that give their all every night. We have three seniors on this team who have put in their time and put in their work … just apologized to them all for not getting it done.”
The disappointment of the loss, though, shouldn’t overshadow what Baylor did to reach the NCAA Tournament. Nobody pictured the Bears getting this far six weeks ago when they were reeling, losing six of seven Big 12 games.
But they regrouped, won seven of their final eight regular-season games and advanced to the championship game of the conference tournament. Then, as they tend to do under coach Scott Drew, Baylor turned it on in the postseason with easy NCAA wins over Nebraska and Creighton.
But the road got tougher and Baylor simply ran into a better team.
“They’re a sound defensive team and a sound offensive team,” senior guard Brady Heslip said. “They showed that tonight. They executed, they made shots and, unfortunately we didn’t make enough shots.”
Wisconsin displayed its lockdown defense early on. Austin and Cory Jefferson, Baylor’s posts who were dominant in the first two wins of the tournament, met their match against Wisconsin big men Frank Kaminsky, a 7-footer, and 6-7 Nigel Hayes.
Kaminsky finished with a game-high 19 points and six blocks. Austin was held to only two points in the first half, but finished with 12. Jefferson had 15 points.
“They just moved our zone, made quick passes and smart decisions,” Austin said. “We got the shots that we wanted. The ball just didn’t go in. That’s how basketball is sometimes.”
Said Drew: “They were better on the inside than I thought they would be. On film, I thought they were good, but I thought we’d cause a little more trouble inside.”
A telling moment of how the game would go came midway through the first half. Wisconsin was on an 8-0 run and Drew called a timeout.
Out of the break, Austin had a point-blank shot swatted away by Kaminsky and the run was extended to 15-1, giving Wisconsin a 25-11 lead with 3:39 left.
Heslip stopped the bleeding somewhat by knocking down the team’s first 3-pointer with 3:21 left, but it wasn’t enough.
The Badgers led 29-16 at halftime, holding the Bears to a dismal 20.8 percent from the field (5 of 24) and 16.7 percent from 3-point range. The 16 points were a season-low in a half for Baylor, too.
It stayed like that all night. Baylor never got back in it. Wisconsin scored eight of the first 10 points of the second half and nursed what became a 20-point lead down the stretch.
“They’re extremely hard to pressure and rattle and that led them to get some easy buckets in the second half,” Drew said. “There is a reason [Wisconsin] won against Virginia. There is a reason they won against Florida.”