DENVER (AP)Caleb Lohner scored a season-best 13 points in just 18 minutes, and No. 3 seed Baylor beat UC Santa Barbara 74-56 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
“I was ready when my number was called,” said Lohner, who matched his scoring output from his previous 15 games combined. “And I think my role on this team is just to do whatever I can to help win.”
That help started well before tipoff, too.
Lohner, whose only other double-digit performance since transferring from BYU in 2022 came back in November, shared some tips about handling the high altitude.
“Me and coach (Scott) Drew actually had this conversation yesterday and I told him we should be drinking 10 to 12 water bottles,” Lohner said.
The well-hydrated Bears were led by Adam Flagler’s 18 points. LJ Cryer scored 11 of his 15 points in the second half, when Baylor held the Gauchos to just 20 points on 30% shooting.
“The players deserve all the credit,” Drew said. “I thought our bench did a really good job, especially at altitude. Having a deep bench helps in an early morning game. And I thought in the second half they had some good looks but they were just short on shots. We were short on shots, too. But I really credit the guys for locking in defensively.”
Next up for Baylor (23-10) is the Creighton-North Carolina State winner on Sunday in the South Region.
In the opening minutes, the Gauchos (27-8) looked like easy pickings for the Bears and their superb trio of guards in Flagler, Cryer and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Keyonte George. But Santa Barbara used a 13-1 run to take a 26-22 lead.
The Gauchos led the Mountain West Conference with a .493 shooting percentage and that sharpshooting carried over to Ball Arena, where they shot 61.5% in the first half to take a 36-35 lead into the locker room.
But that all went away after halftime. The Gauchos succumbed to the thin air, Baylor’s deeper bench and the Bears’ smothering defense.
Miles Norris led Santa Barbara with 15 points. Ajay Mitchell added 13.
“I told our kids afterwards there’s nothing to hang our heads about,” coach Joe Pasternack said. “We had a great first half. We ran out of steam in the second half.
“But we’re all going to be connected for life because they hung two championship banners, a regular season and a conference tournament championship, broke the (school) record for all-time wins by four games,” Pasternack added. “That’s really hard to do in college basketball, and we’ll all be connected forever.”
Baylor sharpshooter Dale Bonner took advantage of an early dead ball to take off his undershirt and just play in his tank top jersey.
“I told him it was a great opportunity to show his muscles to the nation,” cracked Drew. “Maybe he’s a genius for that.”
UC Santa Barbara: The Gauchos are a program on the rise. They won their second Big West championship in three seasons. They are 132-53 since 2017-18. Their next task: Win a March Madness matchup for the first time since upsetting Houston 70-66 in 1990.
Baylor: The Bears have a long history of March Madness maladies. But they avoided the same fate as their 2014-15 squad that lost as a third seed to 14th-seeded Georgia State 57-56. The following season, they lost to 12th-seeded Yale 79-75. And last year they fell to eighth-seeded North Carolina 93-86 in overtime in the second round as a No. 1 seed.
The Bears, who won it all two years ago, are looking to reach the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in the program’s history.
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