Baylor won a national championship in basketball on Thursday, but it wasn’t the Baylor team that everyone expected to reign supreme in the postseason.
The Baylor men finished sixth in the Big 12 this season and missed the selection cut for the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Bears accepted an invitation to participate in the National Invitation Tournament, where they were slotted as a three seed. So while the five teams from the Big 12 who were selected for the NCAA Basketball Championship were eliminated from the Big Dance by the round of 16 – and only two of the five made it that far – Baylor was slowly working itself into the NIT version of the Final Four.
Because Baylor had the higher winning percentage of each of its opponents in the first three rounds if the NIT, it got to play all of its tournament games up through the quarterfinals on its home cout at the Ferrell Center in Waco. And coach Scott Drew’s team responded with three wins that advanced the Baylor men to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In their semifinal game against BYU, Baylor’s play was somewhat sporadic, but the Bears had enough to put away the Cougars, winning by xix, 76-70. On Thursday night, however, in the championship game with Iowa out of the Big Ten, the Bears played a much more complete game, aided by the face that the Hawkeye shooters couldn’t find the bottom of the bucket. Led by Cory Jefferson’s game-high 23 points and 17 more from the Big 12′s Player of the Year and leading scorer, Pierre Jackson, Baylor shot 45 percent from the field in the first half, and was even hotter in the second 20 minutes, hitting 15 of 23 field-goal tires for a sizzling 65 percent.
Meanwhile, Iowa (25-13) managed only 26 percent shooting for the game against the Baylor defensive pressure. As a result, the Bears ran away with the game in the second half for a 74-54 victory and their first NIT championship. Baylor, which finished the year with a 23-14 overall record, made it to the NIT finals four years agao, against Penn State, but lost in the championship game. It was Iowa’s first-ever appearance in the NIT semifinals or final.
Going into the postseason, the Baylor women were the No. 1 team in the country and the top overall seed in the NCAA Women’s Tournament. The general expectation was that Baylor, led by the country’s best player in 6-8 Brittany Griner, would easily play its way into the women’s Final Four and walk away with its second consecutive national title. But the Lady Bears were upset by Louisville in the Sweet 16, thus ending their season, Griner’s brillant college career and their 2013 title run.
A trophy is still coming to Baylor for a postseason championship, but it is the men who delivered the hardware.
Follow Big 12 sports all year long, including news and commentary on all 10 conference teams, by subscribing to Talking12.