KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In late January, when Baylor was in the midst of a five-game losing streak and nothing seemed to be going right, coach Scott Drew marveled at how nobody pointed fingers.
"We stayed united," he said, "stayed together. We knew what we had to get better at, and credit them for getting better each and every day."
All that improvement has been plainly evident this week.
Cory Jefferson had 20 points and 13 rebounds, Isaiah Austin dominated in the paint and seventh-seeded Baylor rolled to an 86-69 victory over Texas on Friday night. It was the third win in three days, and sent the Bears into the Big 12 tournament title game for the third time.
Now the trick is to finally win it. They'll face No. 16 Iowa State on Saturday night.
"Very proud of how the guys competed. Playing three games in three days isn't easy," said Drew, who earned his 202nd win to pass Bill Henderson for the most in school history. "This is our third championship game in six years. We're hoping the third time is the charm."
Brady Heslip hit six 3-pointers and had 24 points for Baylor (24-10), which has won 10 of its last 11 to climb from a precarious position on the NCAA tournament bubble to firmly in the field.
Austin added 10 points and seven blocks for Baylor, giving him 17 swats for the tournament. That breaks the record of 11, held by Missouri's Arthur Johnson from the 2003 event.
"Isaiah has just been an anchor, just ridiculous," Heslip said. "I think that's transferred over to our offense. When we play better defense, we play better offense."
"I think they had a really good game offensively and defensively, but it's nothing we didn't go against every day in practice," Holmes said. "Give them credit. We didn't execute.
"They were tougher than us tonight," he said.
Baylor is the lowest-seeded team to reach the title game since 2009, when the Bears made it as the ninth seed. They lost to Missouri that year, just as they did two years ago.
The Tigers are no longer part of the conference, of course, off to the SEC. And instead, the Bears will take on the Cyclones, who beat No. 10 Kansas 94-83 earlier in the night. Baylor and Iowa State split their two regular-season meetings, each winning at home.
"We're going to give it all we got," Drew said, "see how things turn out."
Jefferson was hot right from the start, scoring Baylor's first nine points and helping the Bears creep to an early lead. He kept going to work inside, even against the Longhorns' big front line, and the lead eventually grew to 29-18 with about 5 minutes left in the half.
Every time Texas tried to trim into it down the stretch, Baylor countered with a bucket, and Kenny Cherry's 3-pointer in the closing seconds made it 42-27 at the break.
In fact, the only thing that didn't go right for Baylor in the first half happened when Gary Franklin chose not to try padding the lead with a court-length heave as time expired. Drew yelled at him, "What are you doing!?" Then he gave his guard a good-natured pat on the butt.
The matchup between old Southwest Conference rivals never got a whole lot more interesting in the second half. Austin kept swatting shots, Jefferson kept scoring around the rim and the Bears kept taking advantage of sloppy Texas off to build on their lead.
Franklin's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 59-39 with 11:20 remaining, prompting Texas coach Rick Barnes to call a timeout. But it didn't do a whole lot of good -- even when the Longhorns defended well for 34 seconds, somebody would hit a shot with one tick left on the clock.
Texas finally slapped on a full-court press in the closing minutes, getting within 79-67 with a couple minutes left, but the Bears sealed the win at the foul line.
"You really have to give Baylor a lot of credit in the fact that they executed offensively," Texas coach Rick Barnes said, "and we didn't really do the things we needed to do."