Baylor Coach Scott Drew may not have too many friends among his Big 12 coaching brethren.
But on Friday, Drew and his Baylor team did what few teams have been able to do all season — quiet St. Mary’s center Omar Samhan. With its 72-49 victory over St. Mary’s in the Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament, a Baylor program that was left in ruins following scandal and tragedy in 2003 is now on the cusp of earning its first Final Four berth since 1950.
“I’m not thinking about the Final Four. I’m thinking about the next opponent and focusing on that,” Drew said.
As he has rebuilt the program following the 2003 murder of team member Patrick Dennehy by fellow teammate Carlton Dotson, and the subsequent resignation of Coach Dave Bliss amid accusations of corruption, Drew has drawn flak for some of his recruiting tactics.
Those tactics include negative recruiting and the hiring of recruits’ coaches on his staff.
But like him or not, there was no denying the effect that Drew’s zone defense had on St. Mary’s offense and Samhan in particular, as Baylor rolled to an easy victory.
“They were a good, really good defensive team and long,” Samhan said.
“But we didn’t hit shots. You know, it’s 50/50. They were good, and that’s 50% of it and 50% of it is we didn’t knock down shots that we normally knock down.”
Since the tournament started, Samhan quickly became one of its stars, both with his candid, magnetic personality — on Thursday he publicly professed his love for singer Taylor Swift — and his play on the court. In the Gaels’ tournament victories over Richmond and Villanova, Samhan had 29 and 32 points, respectively.
After St. Mary’s defeated Villanova, Samhan told reporters he did not understand why Villanova Coach Jay Wright decided against double-teaming him in the post, after Samhan repeatedly damaged Villanova in the paint. Baylor certainly learned that lesson.
With its packed-in zone defense, Baylor mostly played in front of Samhan with a guard and behind him with one of its post men when he didn’t have the ball. If Samhan touched the ball, the Bears swarmed him while the physical play of Baylor’s Josh Lomers and Ekpe Udoh frustrated him.
Samhan had just three points on one-for-eight shooting in the first half.
His teammates, meanwhile, could not shoot Baylor out of the zone.
Samhan did finish with 15 points, but most of those came in the second half, when Baylor held a commanding lead.
The Gaels were just seven-for-30 in the first half, two-for-12 from three-point range.
“It wasn’t that our guards were not knocking down shots, it was just I didn’t play well,” Samhan said.
At the same time, Baylor had no such trouble on offense. The Bears lead kept climbing higher and higher during the first half. A 10-0 run here, a 13-1 run there, and by halftime, Baylor was ahead, 46-17. LaceDarius Dunn finished with 23 for Baylor, while Tweety Carter added 14, in what was essentially nothing more than a tuneup for the Bears.