KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Baylor coach Scott Drew had the Bears in the Big 12 final a year ago, finishing strong after a disappointing conference season.
The Bears lost to Missouri, missed the NCAAs but raced out to the NIT final.
The carry-over was there for Baylor, leading the Bears to a record-tying 25 wins after Thursday’s quarterfinal victory over Texas at the Sprint Center. But there is still more to claim. The Bears are facing Kansas State in the semifinal Friday night with a chance for a second consecutive appearance in the Big 12 title game.
Just digest that for a second. Baylor. In the Big 12 title game for the second straight season.
That just doesn’t compute nationally, but it’s reverberating here in the Big 12. The Bears aren’t going anywhere. They have arrived as a real contender with a lineup that will lose key senior guard Tweety Carter next season, but will return the rest of the core of the team and adds a top-five talent in big man Perry Jones.
But that’s for another season. The Bears can improve their national standing with the selection committee with a win Friday night.
“We’re all fighting for top seeds,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Kansas and Kansas State are fighting for a one seed. Texas A&M a high seed and if we win maybe a two. Missouri won this tournament last year and got to the Elite Eight.’’
It’s not a farfetched concept for Baylor, either. Kansas will be the favorite regardless of what happens Friday night against the Aggies. With a decisive win over Oklahoma State Thursday, the Wildcats proved they are a real threat to advance to the Elite Eight. The Aggies would be thrilled to be playing in the second weekend after two exits to No. 1 seeded teams the past two seasons.
Baylor? The Bears are new to all of this but are playing with such a sense of pride, purpose and passion that it’s a good watch from start to finish. Carter and LaceDarius Dunn can motor and score. You can’t watch Ekpe Udoh and not be impressed by his ability, effort and overall performance. The Bears also showed a bit of an edge and toughness against Texas.
“Being on the bubble is hard,’’ Drew said. “When I was at Valparaiso, winning those three games is the three toughest days of your life -- to have to win the league.’’
Baylor doesn’t have to sweat Selection Sunday for the first time under Drew and that alone shows how far this program has come.