Every college basketball team enters the season full of hope, promise and the goal of ending the season on a winning note. Unfortunately, most teams never reach that goal, either going down to defeat in their postseason conference tournament or, if they’re among the chosen few, in the NCAA Tournament, along with 68 other hopefuls.
The Baylor Bears were one of those teams this season. After starting out the season with grand hopes for a successful season, a funny thing happened once the conference schedule got under way: The Bears discovered that there were other Big 12 schools with the same aspirations. As fate would have it, Baylor found itself on the losing end more than five other teams in the conference. And the five spot ended up being the dividing line between the haves and the have-nots as far as the NCAA Tournament selection committee was concerned.
So all the Bears had to look forward to, having been left out of the postseason tournament perceived as the only basketball in March that anyone really cares about, was the likleihood that the NCAA tourney’s less flattering step child, the National Invitation Tournament, would extend Baylor an invitation. Which in deed did happen. In addition, as one of the higher seeds in this year’s NIT postseason competition, the Bears were awarded home games all the way to the semifinals and championship game to be played at Madison Square Garden in New York, should Baylor make it that far.
Flashing forward to today, the five Big 12 teams that appeared in the NCAA Championship this year are now back home planning for next season, including the two Big 12 co-champions, No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 4 seed Kansas State. Meanwhile, Baylor brushed aside three preliminary-round foes – Long Beach State, Arizona State and Providence, by an average margin of 20 points – and on Tuesday, in the NIT semifinal round in New York, took care of business against BYU, downing the Cougars 76-70.
The Bears (22-14) now will face Iowa from the Big Ten in the NIT championship game on Thursday and are one win away from their second NIT championship appearance in four seasons. Baylor lost to Penn State in the NIT final game in 2009. Like Baylor, the Hawkeyes (25-12) finished sixth in the Big Ten standings this season. Baylor is a No. 3 seed and Iowa comes into the chyampionship game as a No. 1 seed.
In their Tuesday night win over BYU (24-12), the Bears were led by senior point guard Pierre Jackson, who has literally been on fire in his last five games. The Big 12’s leading scorer and assist leader had a double-double with 24 points and 10 assists, including a pair of big buckets – one a three-point daggar to the heart – late in the game to put the Bears up by 10 points. Carlino (BYU’s Matt Carlino, who made three of 15 from three-point range in the game) started making threes from halfcourt.”
Jackson also got scoring help from forward Cory Jefferson and center Isaiah Austin, who added 21 and 14 points, respectively.
After the game, Drew remarked: “Well, I think there’s only two happy teams at the end of the year: the team that wins the NCAA and the team that wins the NIT. We want to be one of those happy team,” the Baylor coach said.
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