Baylor University’s Lady Bears obviously rate plaudits for prevailing in their Monday matchup against Tennessee’s Lady Vols, but the men’s team deserves every bit as much acknowledgement for a school-record 30 wins and advancing to the Elite Eight — a marvel considering the scandalously sorry state of this program less than a decade ago.

Let’s be honest — there’s no shame falling to a powerhouse such as Kentucky. Few teams can top it in the South — and some now bet on Kentucky to go all the way to the NCAA summit.

When all is said and scored, the Baylor men’s team found itself in pretty exceptional company after a thrilling season distinguished by teamwork, confidence and the pure joy of playing. As coach Scott Drew put it: “When you get into coaching, you dream of having years like this. Sometimes you win and you don’t really have a great time. Other times you win and you just love the guys you’re with. Because of the senior leadership we’ve had all year and the great group of guys we’ve had, it’s been a blessing to coach them.”

As for the Lady Bears, they’re poised for triumph in the NCAA Final Four. Even so, Monday’s game against the Lady Vols offered more than the usual emotion because of the admiration both coach Kim Mulkey and her players have for legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, diagnosed with early onset dementia last year. If she retires, she’ll finish with an astonishing 1,098-208 record. Her team won at least 22 games in each of the last 36 seasons. Again, even in defeat, a legacy can endure if built on such sacrifice, skill, consistency and dedication.

This admiration was on view before and after the game. On the field of play, both teams struggled hard, though this time Tennessee never had a chance, despite an early lead. As the top-seeded, 38-0 Lady Bears prepare to take on Stanford this Sunday, the sportsmanship prevalent (excusing one Monday dustup for which apologies were properly made) must rate attention, cheers, even respect.

Some might dismiss the standout athletics at Baylor these days, especially as it would seem to draw attention from other commendable pursuits on campus. The point is fair. Yet athletics are what set hearts a-pumping. Athletics have a way of tightening loyalties to an institution, even for alumni years removed from their own days on campus.

Beyond all that, athletics, when played with talent, devotion, principle and a sense of fair play, can yield examples of the very best in humanity, even in the heat of competition. Who knows? Such examples of sportsmanship could influence other students in the growing number of academic disciplines at Baylor, even if only in some small way. And that’s not such a bad thing.

 

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