Baylor has made three Big 12 tournament championship game appearances under Scott Drew, but that first title remains elusive.
The Bears hope to change that this week in Kansas City.
After finishing in a second-place tie in the regular season, the third-seeded Bears will face No. 6 Kansas State at 8 p.m. Thursday in the tournament quarterfinals at the Sprint Center.
The Bears (25-6, 12-6) finished off an impressive regular season with a 75-64 win over Texas on Saturday in Austin to land at No. 9 in the Associated Press poll. But now they want to begin a memorable postseason run.
“We have one goal and that’s to win the tournament championship,” said Baylor senior guard Ish Wainright. “It’s extremely big. I’ve had a lot of alumni email me and call and let us know we haven’t won it and we can make history. We’ve been making history and we still want to make more history.”
Drew led the Bears to Big 12 tournament championship game appearances in 2009, 2012 and 2014. A deep Big 12 tournament run would also help Baylor’s NCAA tournament seeding. While Baylor is being projected as a No. 2 or 3 regional seed, Drew hasn’t given up on a No. 1 seed.
“If you win the Big 12 tournament there’s a chance you move up,” Drew said. “The right people lose you maybe go to a one. You definitely stay at two. If you lose up there early you might drop to a three. So much depends on other people, so we just have to control what we can control and hopefully do well.”
The Bears split their two regular season games against Kansas State (19-12, 8-10). After Baylor took a 77-68 decision on Jan. 14 in Manhattan, the Wildcats came back for a 56-54 win on Feb. 4 at the Ferrell Center.
While Baylor is an NCAA tournament lock, the Wildcats are on the bubble and that makes them a dangerous team. The Big 12 will likely land at least five NCAA tournament bids, but Kansas State hopes the strength of the league will pay off in more bids.
After an 81-51 blowout loss to Oklahoma, the Wildcats have bounced back with wins over TCU and Texas Tech.
“All we’ve told the players is we’ve got to focus on trying to get another win and the first opportunity is Baylor,” said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber. “We have the best league in the country with the RPI and other power ratings. The balance in the league is unbelievable. Because of that I hope the NCAA rewards our league.”
Baylor hopes point guard Manu Lecomte will be ready to play against the Wildcats have missing the last two regular season games with a sprained ankle. Lecomte hit four of six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 26 points in the win over Kansas State but was held to nine points in the rematch.
“Definitely if he’s healthy he’s playing,” Drew said. “If he’s not healthy and we’re putting him at risk, then we wouldn’t play him. If he’s not 100 percent, the good thing is we have guys who have been able to step up and play well. We don’t want to put him in harm’s way, that’s for sure.”
In the loss to the Wildcats, the Bears shot just 38.5 percent from the field and hit seven of 13 free throws. Baylor got off to a poor start as Kansas State jumped out to a 37-22 halftime lead. Baylor’s only two home losses this season were to Kansas State and No. 1 Kansas.
Guard Kamau Stokes led the Wildcats with 15 points while forward Dean Wade hit 12 points and guard Wesley Iwundu 10. The only double figure scorer for the Bears was Johnathan Motley with 17 points.
“Kansas State kicked the tar out of us in the first half,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey. “We didn’t do a good job coming out with energy on our homecourt. That’s really unacceptable. They’re tremendously balanced and Coach Weber does a great job. Defensively they do a great job of protecting the paint. They’re really physical, so we have to respond in kind and make sure we come out and set a tone in this game.”
Though Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title by four games, coach Bill Self doesn’t think it’s a slam dunk that the Jayhawks will win the tournament.
The tournament begins Wednesday with No. 8 TCU facing No. 9 Oklahoma at 6 p.m. and No. 7 Texas Tech facing No. 10 Texas at 8 p.m.
“This is as competitive of a group of teams as we’ve had throughout the entire league,” Self said. “You can’t pencil in anything and you can’t take anything for granted. It gives the appearance that since we won the league by a few games that it hasn’t been as difficult, but we could have easily lost a few more games.”
BEAR FACTS – Baylor, Creighton, UCLA and Wisconsin will participate in the Hall of Fame Classic Nov. 20-21 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The tournament will be held in conjunction with the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame induction on Nov. 19. The bracket will be announced at a later date.