3:15 P.M. SUNDAY, JAN. 31, 2009
It's been nearly 24 hours since Baylor's shocking defeat of sixth-ranked Texas and the shockwaves around the country are just starting to subside.
The talking heads in the college basketball universe had said it all along, Baylor needed a signature win to stamp its ticket to the big dance this year.
Consider Baylor's ticket now stamped.
Following an excruciating home loss to K-State Tuesday night, the Bears were forced to look in the mirror and ask questions about its destiny this season. Is it time to lower expectations? Do we need to rethink our offense? Can this team beat the Big 12's heavyweights? One win later and a different set of questions have surfaced.
Is it the most impressive win in school history? Is it possible this BU team is capable of achieving a school record in wins? What does a win in Austin mean for this team?
Amazing what one win can do.
Of course, its not just one win. Baylor defeated the rival Horns in Austin for the first time since the Clinton administration. Despite squandering a 14-point lead in the second half, this team showed the poise and moxie of a group ready for the biggest stage in college basketball and earned its biggest win of the season.
As BU fans, we knew it wouldn't come easy. We remember the Terry Black steal in 2000 that should have lead to a buzzer beater win in Austin. We remember huge Baylor leads over the years evaporated by UT stars such as T. J. Ford, Kevin Durant and even our own transfer, Kenny Taylor. We remember second half heroics from UT in countless games just like the one that was unfolding on Saturday.
So when our offense got tight, Texas got to the foul line again and again, and our Dr. Jekyl (or is it Mr. Hyde?) surfaced late in the second half, even the most optimistic Baylor fan had to feel this tape was stuck on replay.
A funny thing happened though, despite our mistakes down the stretch, despite a flurry of missed free throws and despite the fact two of our key guys fouled out, this team found a way to win.
As of yesterday, only one team currently ranked in the top 10 had lost a game on its home floor. That's how big this win is for BU's tourney resume.
With the victory, Baylor leapfrogs virtually half of the teams in the current Sagarrin RPI ratings, they prove to be capable of surviving the toughest part of their schedule and appear up to the challenge of knocking off any team in any gym.
That's what a win in Austin does.
10:45 A.M. SATURDAY, JAN. 23, 2009
With the help of Sherron Collins' clutch shooting and a little magic from Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas held off Baylor Wednesday night in what nearly became another BU/KU instant classic...for Bears fans anyway.
The Jayhawks win evens the Bears mark in conference play at 2-2 as Baylor takes a well-timed dip out of Big 12 play for a tilt with UMass Saturday in Waco [3 p.m. CT, ESPNU].
Then it's time to prep for two more top-10 teams that the Bears will face within the same week. That's three in 10 games for those keeping track. This is life in the Big 12, a conference that Hubert Davis acknowledged as capable of now landing four teams in the final four.
Think about that for a second.
For this Baylor team, it's tough to look anywhere on their remaining schedule and find sure-fire wins. Then again with the team's impressive and gritty (while shorthanded) performance in Lawrence, likely losses will be just as difficult to pinpoint.
You'll have to believe me.
What should keep Bears fans plenty enthused is the team's proven abilities on the road. Minus an unfortunate slip-up in Boulder, BU has looked impressive (and then some) in defeating Arizona State, Arkansas and South Carolina. Coming within a basket or two of ending KU's 52 game home win streak won't look bad on the ol' resume come March either.
What BU players, fans and staff need to focus on now is creating that same home court advantage at the Ferrell Center. For every distraction and obstacle that awaits this team when they walk onto a visiting court, the same challenge must await visitors to Waco.
This season should offer a capacity crowd, a raucous student body, and a home team that plays with enough energy and fluidity to run its guests out of the gym.
The Bears return home Saturday for the Minutemen before welcoming a likely top-five-ranked Kansas State team to town on Tuesday. Barring some unforeseen events Saturday, Baylor's own home win streak will be on the line.
If this team responds with the gusto and perseverance that Kansas showed in defending its home court, those fans will have plenty to keep coming back for.
Remember The Name
11:00 A.M. MONDAY, JAN. 18, 2009
Remember The Name
Make no mistake, this Baylor men's basketball team is still fighting, scratching and clawing in attempting to gain respect in the Big 12.
With Saturday's rousing and convincing home victory over Oklahoma State (the program's fourth straight such win), BU earned victories over both Big 12 schools in the Sooner state for the first time in school history. The Bears also extended their unbeaten streak in the Ferrell Center to 10 games and more importantly got the bad taste of last Tuesday night's loss in Boulder out of their mouth.
That's exactly what a little home cooking is supposed to do this time of year.
And that's exactly what Coach Drew stressed in his postgame comments. The season-high crowd helped, but the boys did their job in keeping the crowd in a frenzy. It's amazing what a few knee-lifting two-handed rim-rockers will do: energize the home team, demoralize the visitors.
Fortunately for fans of this team, BU offers thrills in both the front and backcourts. When Quincy isn't posterizing some unfortunate opponent with another highlight-reel dunk, we have LaceDarius making it rain from behind the arc. When Udoh isn't doing his best Dikembe Motumbo impersonation, Tweety is proving to be the most dependable point guard in recent memory.
In other words, not only are the Bears reinforcing the fact that they are as sound as any team in the country (currently leading the nation in per-game rebounding margin), but they are also a dynamic group who is proving to be ready for prime time.
Think a nationally televised game at Allen Fieldhouse counts as primetime?
The Bears have beaten KU in Waco and they beat Kansas in the school's last meeting on a neutral court. This team can match up with anybody in the country and there's no better time than now for this program to take the next step.
Wednesday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN2, BU will have its first real chance for the nation to "remember its name."
Back on the Map
2:55 P.M. MONDAY, JAN. 11, 2009
Here Comes The Sun
Baylor 91, Oklahoma 60.
And with that, Baylor hoops is officially back on the map.
Regardless of what the Sooners do the rest of the season, the importance of Saturday's conference-opening triumph, a win that erased a 32-year drought to our friends in Norman, looms large for this team and for this program.
And fittingly, today the Bears are acknowledged as they crack the AP and Coach's top 25 polls, the third straight season Scott Drew and company have been ranked.
Perhaps we're just getting started.
The Bears got a huge monkey off their back Saturday. With the win, Coach Drew has finally beaten each and every conference opponent. It should be noted that he's done just this within the past two-plus seasons at the helm too.
The win over Oklahoma was huge. Not just in margin of victory, but also what it can do for this team and its fans as the true gauntlet of Big 12 heavyweights awaits. The win produces a unique buzz that this program hasn't generated since the epic five-overtime defeat of Texas A&M two years ago (the game that followed our first appearance in the polls that season). It reminds all those that haven't had their eye on this team since last March's run through the NIT, that we've got a great coach in Drew.
And for those of us that follow this program 12 months a year, it's a time to rejoice (and, if possible, to not get carried away) with the realization that this season should offer many more joyous moments like the two hours we witnessed Saturday afternoon.
There's still so much basketball left to be played, but for now it appears that the Baylor team that buzz-sawed its way through two post season tournaments last spring is back with authority and with it, so is the attention of the nation.
And unlike last season, it's nowhere near too late to make a return trip to the big dance.
Now the Real Season Begins
10:35 A.M. THURSDAY, JAN. 7, 2009
The Boys Are Back In Town
With Wednesday night's convincing win in Waco over Morgan State, Baylor basketball now turns the page to the Big 12 portion of its schedule. A 16-game gauntlet that encompasses the next nine weeks will, like always, provide enough tests to accurately judge this team's ability before a group of suits sitting around a table does the same thing on Selection Sunday.
Different than years past however, is the resume the Bears carry into conference play. Simply put, the Bears have already assembled a credible case for their return to the big dance. With three legitimate road wins over major conference schools (Arizona State, Arkansas and South Carolina) and a solid neutral site win against Xavier, Baylor's 12-1 record might seem ho-hum, but don't be fooled.
These guys might just be getting started.
For those of us that thought this would likely be a down year following the departure of pivotal seniors Henry Dugat, Kevin Rogers and Curtis Jerrells, this team has completely redefined itself. Drew's crew has addressed the weaknesses that were once exploited in years past. The team is bigger, dominates the glass and has become less dependent on perimeter shooting.
Key returners LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter and Josh Lomers have each upped their game, but the real story of this team is of course the emergence of Ekpe Udoh. The junior transfer recorded the fifth triple-double in school history Wednesday night. Udoh notched his eighth double-double of the season while quickly becoming one of the nation's top rebounders and unquestionably one of the best shot blockers in recent memory.
BU will ride an eight-game win streak into Saturday's conference opener with OU (5 p.m. CT, Big 12 Network), a team that Baylor has not beaten in 30-plus years. While it may just be the first of many big tests that await this team over the next eight weeks, Saturday's tilt will be a huge indicator in determining just how far the program has come in just one season.
And to think this was going to be a rebuilding season.