By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor started 2-8 in Big 12 Conference play, but ended the season winning 10 of the last 12 games and making a run to the Big 12 Championship game.
“I think having our backs against the wall [has helped],” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “It’s basically been do-or-die and playoff basketball for a while. It was win or go home. I think that helps prepare you for the NCAA Tournament, because you have to be sharp each day in practice and each game. If you didn’t win down the stretch like we did, we wouldn’t have been in this situation. Hopefully, that will pay dividends.”
For their efforts, Baylor was rewarded with a six-seed in the West Region and a first round matchup with Big 10 opponent Nebraska in San Antonio.
“I saw that we had a chance to go to San Antonio, but I never really thought that we would go,” sophomore forward and San Antonio native Taurean Prince said. “I was surprised when I saw it. It’ll be my first time playing home since high school, so I probably won’t get that chance again unless God blesses me with a chance to go to the NBA. Besides that, it’ll be my first time going back home to play so I’m very excited.”
Baylor was one of seven Big 12 teams that earned a place in the NCAA Tournament, most out of any conference. The Bears were given the fourth-highest seed out of the seven teams after their Big 12 Tournament run.
“I love being in San Antonio,” Drew said. “It will be great that our fans will be able to drive now because they make a big impact on the game. I remember when we were in Houston and the great advantage we had. I couldn’t be more excited to be in San Antonio. It’s a weekend on the River Walk for Baylor Nation.”
Baylor will open against Nebraska on Friday morning. The Cornhuskers closed out their season with a significant win against No. 9 and two-seed Wisconsin to earn a spot in the Tournament. Nebraska also earned a strong win on Jan. 20 against No. 17 Ohio State.
If the Bears win, they will play either Creighton or Louisiana in the Round of 32.
Baylor easily defeated the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 87-68 in the third game of the season behind 20 points and four assists from junior guard Kenny Chery. ULL made the Tournament after upsetting Georgia State in the Sun Belt Tournament, and have won four straight games.
Creighton forward Doug McDermott has arguably been the best player in the country this season. The senior is averaging 26.9 points per game on 52.5 percent from the field and 46 percent from the three-point line. The Bluejays shoot 42.1 percent from three as a team and have five different players who shoot 39.5 percent or better from three.
After the Big 12 Tournament being played in Kansas City, Mo., Baylor will be the only team from Texas playing at the San Antonio regional site. Baylor, Nebraska, Creighton and ULL will be playing West Region games in Texas. Other teams playing in San Antonio are Iowa State, North Carolina, Providence and North Carolina Central in the South Region.
If Baylor were to get through, they would move on to the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight in Anaheim, Calif. The Final Four will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, right in Baylor’s backyard.
“The goal at the beginning of the year was to win a national championship,” senior guard Brady Heslip said. “If a team tells you that they aren’t playing for that then there is no point in playing. Our goal is to be in Dallas, and we expect to be there.”
Baylor will play Nebraska at 11:40 a.m. Friday at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. Baylor University Student Activities is offering a bus trip for students to and from the location for $60.