HOUSTON — Look who's back in the Final Four.
HOUSTON — Look who's back in the Final Four.
Duke restored some order to a topsy-turvy NCAA tournament on Sunday, getting 29 points from Nolan Smith in a 78-71 victory over Baylor that put Coach K and the Blue Devils in college basketball's biggest event for the first time in six years.
Jon Scheyer added 20 points for Duke, ending Baylor's charming run to redemption in the South Regional final. The Blue Devils became the only No. 1 seed to advance to Indianapolis and their its 11th trip to the Final Four under coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"I can't put it into words," said Lance Thomas, one of three Duke seniors. "It took us four years to get here and we're not done yet."
The Blue Devils will play East Regional champion West Virginia in the national semifinals Saturday night. They have won 11 of their last 12 regional finals under Krzyzewski, but haven't won a national title since 2001.
Coach K made his first Final Four with Duke in 1986 and hadn't had this long of a gap between trips.
"We played against a great team," Krzyzewski said. "It was such a well-played game, and we were fortunate to win."
Smith and Scheyer helped the Blue Devils (33-5) offset a poor game from junior forward Kyle Singler, who was 0 for 10 from the field and made only five free throws. It was the first time in the former South Medford High standout's college career he failed to hit a field goal.
LaceDarius Dunn had 22 points and Ekpe Udoh scored 18 for the third-seeded Bears (28-8), whose program was in shambles when coach Scott Drew took over in the wake of murder and scandal less than seven years ago.
Drew took the Bears from tatters to the cusp of their first Final Four appearance in 60 years. After three consecutive 20-win seasons and an inspiring postseason run, maybe Baylor can be recognized more for its success now than the tragic summer of 2003 that is finally starting to feel like a long time ago.
"I really hope so and I really feel it has," Drew said, his voice quivering. "I do really want to thank all the fans in the state of Texas."
After tying the game for the 12th time on a free throw with 3:36 left, Smith missed his second attempt. But Thomas grabbed one of his nine rebounds and quickly passed the ball right back to Smith, who hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to put Duke up 64-61.
"I just wanted to make the plays," Thomas said. "My teammates know I can make them. I made it and I just got the ball to our shooters."
Scheyer, another senior, then extended the lead to six with his fifth 3-pointer.
"Those two 3s in a row, by Nolan and then Jon, those were big-time plays," Krzyzewski said. "The big guys kicked it out and those are the best 3s to take."
And the long-range shots were the best for Duke against Baylor's tenacious zone defense featuring a combination of a 7-footer and a pair of 6-10 players.
The Blue Devils made 11 of 23 3-pointers (48 percent) — and shot only 11 of 38 from inside the arc.
But at least they didn't need a miracle shot on the 18th anniversary of Christian Laettner's game-winner against Kentucky in the 1992 tournament.
With Baylor desperately trying to get the ball back after a turnover by Carter, there was a scuffle by the sideline following a whistle and Acy was called for a technical foul. Scheyer hit both free throws, pushing the lead to 10 with 1:19 left.
The fairy-tale ending wasn't meant to be for the Bears — at least this year.
"It's not over for this program. It was a great season," said Dunn, the junior guard who had obviously shed tears before the postgame interview. "Teammates should hold their head up high and be proud of the things we accomplished this year."
Tweety Carter and Quincy Acy had 12 points each for Baylor at Reliant Stadium, where most of the crowd of 47,492 was dressed in the green and gold of the Bears. Udoh had 10 rebounds, six assists and five blocks.
Drew was 32 when he was hired and had been a head coach only one season, winning 20 games at Valparaiso after nine years there as his father's assistant. He had to rebuild in the powerful Big 12 with reduced scholarships and a roster decimated by the transfers of the top three scorers after that tragic summer in 2003 when Patrick Dennehy was shot to death by a teammate.
Baylor made it to the NCAA tournament two years ago, when it lost in the first round to Purdue, and to the NIT championship game last April.
The Bears were picked 10th in the preseason poll by the Big 12 coaches at the beginning of this season after losing three 1,000-point scorers to graduation. But they were the last Big 12 team still playing.
After Dunn darted through traffic for a layup and then made two free throws, the Bears were up 57-54 with just under 6 minutes left. Their lead wouldn't last long.
Scheyer missed a 3-pointer, but Mason Plumlee got the rebound and threw the ball right back to the senior guard — who hit from about 25 feet to tie the game.
The seven-point loss matched the largest of the season for Baylor, which had advanced to the South Regional final with three victories over double-digit seeds. The last was a 72-49 rout of 10th-seeded Saint Mary's on Friday night.
Baylor had a 10-1 flurry near the end of the first half, when Duke committed three turnovers and the Bears had some electrifying scores that sent Baylor fans into a frenzy.
Dunn had a steal that he converted into a breakaway dunk, then Acy had a slam before stripping the ball from Smith and getting it to Carter for a 3-pointer and a 35-29 lead.
Andre Dawkins hit a 3-pointer to cut Duke's halftime deficit to 35-32.
Scheyer proved that his shooting slump was indeed over when he hit a pair of 3s in less than 2 minutes and gave Duke a 25-18 lead that was its largest before halftime.
Before hitting his 3-pointer early in the second half that finally got the Blue Devils rolling in a 70-57 victory over Purdue on Friday night, Scheyer — their leading scorer — had missed 17 of his previous 18 shots.
Now he's going to a Final Four with Coach K.