Mar 17, 2023; Denver, CO, USA; Baylor Bears guard Keyonte George (1) and Baylor Bears forward Josh Ojianwuna (15) react to a play during the second half against UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in the first round of the 2023 NCAA men’s basketball tournament at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports
No. 3-seed Baylor 74, No. 14-seed UC Santa Barbara 56
The Baylor Bears, seeded No. 3 in the South Region of the NCAA Tournament, advanced to the Round of 32 with a 74-56 over UC Santa Barbara on Friday in Denver. With the win, the Bears will take on either Creighton or North Carolina State for a trip to the Sweet 16 on Sunday.
Caleb Lohner posted a season-high 13 points for Baylor, while Adam Flagler led the team with 18, and LJ Cryer scored 15. Miles Norris contributed 15 points to lead UC Santa Barbara.
UCSB kept the game close most of the way, exchanging leads back and forth with Baylor until the midpoint of the second half. Baylor eventually pulled away, extending its lead to as many as 19 in the final minutes after its 3-pointers started falling in the second half. Baylor forced 14 Gaucho turnovers, stifling UCSB down the stretch as the lead grew quickly. The Gauchos shot more than 60% from the field in the first half but finished the day at just 46.9% after going cold late.
The Gauchos, champions of the Big West conference, entered Friday’s game seeking their second-ever NCAA Tournament win and first since 1990. Baylor, 2021’s national champion, qualified as an at-large for its ninth NCAA tournament appearance in the last 10 seasons under Scott Drew. With Friday’s win, Baylor has now reached the Round of 32 for the eighth time during Drew’s tenure.
UCSB and Baylor traded blows early; trading leads several times before the first media timeout arrived. Scott Drew’s team missed three straight 3-pointers to start the game but kept pace with the Gauchos over the game’s first few minutes with solid defense. With 11:30 to go in the first half, Baylor led 14-11.
Baylor extended its lead to seven in the minute that followed, in large part thanks to six straight points by Caleb Lohner off the bench. Adam Flagler finally made the Bears’ first 3-pointer at the 10-minute mark of the first half, putting them ahead 21-13.
UC Santa Barbara fought back quickly. Evans Kipruto converted a 3-point play with 7:55 remaining, narrowing the Gauchos’ deficit to 22-20. After the under-8 media timeout, UCSB tied the game with a layup by Matija Belic and forged ahead on Cole Anderson’s midrange jumper.
The Bears wrestled back the lead with a 7-0 run of their own, continuing a back-and-forth first half. One minute later, a four straight by UCSB made it 30-29 Gauchos with 3:30 to go before the break.
The Gauchos led 36-35 at halftime, but not before a wild first half that saw 12 lead changes and five ties. Both teams shot better than 50% from the field in the opening half, with UCSB lighting it up at a 61.5% rate. Adam Flagler scored nine first-half points to pace Baylor, while seven different Gauchos scored between four and six points.
The teams traded blows over the first few minutes after halftime, but it was Baylor who went on a run to extend its lead to 46-41 at the under-16 media timeout. Caleb Lohner drilled a 3-pointer to give him 11 points moments later, extending Baylor’s advantage back to a game-high eight points with 13 minutes remaining.
As Baylor heated up from beyond the arc, it began to build a more comfortable lead. After Adam Flagler canned his second triple of the game with seven minutes left, the Bears’ lead reached 64-52. Flagler hit his third 3-pointer with 3:40 to play, a dagger that put Baylor ahead by 15 points and left UCSB searching for answers.
Baylor’s lead extended to as high as 20 in the last few seconds as both teams emptied their benches. With a final tally of 74-56, the Bears will move on to play either N.C. State or Creighton on Sunday.