By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer
For the first time since 1950, when legendary Baylor coach Bill Henderson led the Bears to their second Final Four appearance, Baylor will be a part of college basketball’s final weekend with a chance to cut down the nets and win the program’s first national championship.
While the Bears still have their eyes on the ultimate goal, winning a national championship, the significance of reaching the program’s first Final Four in 71 years is not lost on the team.
“It means a tremendous a lot to me but even more to the program,” senior guard MaCio Teague said. “No person is bigger than the program. What we did was history here. Really happy for Coach [Scott] Drew. He’s been here for 18 years.”
Baylor’s first opponent, Houston, will be the biggest challenge the Bears have faced in the NCAA Tournament. Led by hall-of-fame coach Kelvin Sampson and Kansas-transfer Quentin Grimes, the Cougars finished 28-3 on the season and were able to capture the American Athletic Conference Tournament title. Grimes leads the team in scoring, averaging 18 points per game.
Houston has yet to be really tested during their path to the Final Four. The Cougars are the first team in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Final Four without facing a single-digit seed.
While Houston will be the highest-seeded team Baylor has faced so far in the tournament, the Bears will continue to treat it like every other game.
“I don’t think there’s any more pressure going into these games than another game,” Teague said after the game against Arkansas. “I feel like today was like a game that we played on January 30th. Big 12 versus the SEC matchup. And I feel like that’s all it was today. And just going forward, we’ve got to be locked in, not get caught up in the moment.”
On the other side of the bracket, No. 1-seed Gonzaga will play No. 11-seed UCLA. UCLA has been this tournament’s Cinderella story, becoming the first team since VCU in 2011 to play in the first four and make the Final Four.
Gonzaga, on the other hand, seeks a different type of history, trying to become the first team since 1975-76 Indiana to finish the season and tournament undefeated. The Bulldogs have been dominant all season and have yet to be seriously challenged in the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s Final Four is chock-full of talented teams and players, including Baylor. From here on out, every game will be a challenge for the Bears, but head coach Scott Drew said the team’s belief and honesty with each other can propel them to a championship.
“When one of us makes a mistake, we admit it, and we move on,” Drew said. “And everybody stays together, stays positive. And at the end of the day, they believe in each other, and when you have a team that does that, you have a chance to be special.”
Baylor will face off against No. 2-seed Houston at 4:14 p.m. on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The game will be televised on CBS.