Commentary

Baylor shocks top-seeded Kansas

Bears try for miraculous run through Big 12 tourney into NCAAs

Updated: March 13, 2009, 11:13 AM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Good things always seem to happen in Oklahoma City for Baylor coach Scott Drew.

It has nothing to do with the juicy steaks at the Cattlemen's Restaurant or even his team's 3-1 Big 12 tournament record in Oklahoma's capital city.

[+] EnlargeScott Drew
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesScott Drew's Bears will play Texas in the Big 12 semifinals in Oklahoma City.
His brother, Bryce, hit one of the most memorable shots in NCAA history here, powering his Valparaiso team to an improbable first-round win over Mississippi in the 1998 tournament. That buzzer-beating 3-pointer has been immortalized in countless highlight packages through the years.

And if you look very closely, Scott Drew was sitting on the bench that day, watching his brother's heroics as a Valparaiso assistant on a team coached by their father, Homer. So, it's understandable that Drew would pack the Bears up earlier this week and return to the site of that memorable family milestone in hopes of boosting his team's confidence ahead of the Big 12 tournament.

"He couldn't wait to get us out there," Baylor senior guard Curtis Jerrells said. "Coach took us right to the bench and the same spot on the floor where the shot was. He knew exactly where it was.

"And then he told us to believe. Everybody thinks we're out of it, but anything can happen in the tournament."

Although the Bears' 71-64 victory over No. 1 seed Kansas on Thursday afternoon wasn't nearly as miraculous as Valparaiso's victory here in terms of sheer drama, it still was one for the ages in the history of the Big 12 tournament. And it shows the resilience of a Baylor team that had underachieved in a disastrous late funk after being considered one of the preseason challengers for the Big 12 title.

The Bears started the season 15-3 and soared as high as No. 20 nationally during a span of six consecutive weeks when they were ranked in the Top 25.

But their confidence waned down the stretch in a late slump that saw them lose 10 of their last 12 games and dropped them to ninth place in the conference.

Such a collapse was a huge step backward for a program that qualified for the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1988. With most of that cast returning, more of the same was expected for Baylor this season.

"A lot of people were counting us out coming into the tournament," Baylor guard Henry Dugat said. "I don't think anybody expected us to make it this far. But we had a chip on our shoulder. We knew what we were capable of doing, and we knew we had to step up right now."

Baylor played like that from the opening tip-off Thursday, hitting 10 of its first 14 shots en route to an early 30-13 lead. The Bears also turned up the defensive pressure on Kansas point guard Sherron Collins, frustrating him into a 6-for-20 shooting performance with five turnovers.

But Collins helped lead a comeback that gave the Jayhawks a 56-51 lead with 9:16 left, making most of the Kansas fans expect that the Jayhawks' 10th consecutive Big 12 tournament victory was imminent.

[+] EnlargeLaceDarius Dunn
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiLaceDarius Dunn scored 24 points to push the Bears past top-seeded Kansas in the Big 12 quarterfinals.
"We said that for TV's sake we had made it an interesting game, but now we needed to come out and play," Drew said, chuckling. "But the biggest thing we did was try to keep our poise. They made a run. Great teams make runs, and great teams answer them."

Baylor answered with a 14-2 spurt that helped it salt the game away. Guard LaceDarius Dunn provided a couple of key buckets down the stretch that enabled him to finish with a game-high 24 points.

It marked only the second time in Big 12 history the No. 1 team was knocked out in the quarterfinals and the first time that Kansas lost its opening game of a Big 12 tournament. And it likely slotted the Jayhawks (25-7) as a No. 3 or No. 4 seed when the NCAA brackets are released Sunday.

It was an uncharacteristic performance by the Jayhawks, who always have seemed to thrive in previous Big 12 tournaments. They became the fourth higher-seeded team to fall in six games so far in the Big 12 tournament.

"I thought we looked like a really tired team today," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "There was no energy at all. We were definitely a half step slow or a full step, and they beat us to a majority of loose balls. We let them get comfortable, and you can't let good shooters get comfortable."

The Bears got a huge lift inside from 7-foot senior center Mamadou Diene, whose uneven career has been marked with as many disappointments as accomplishments. Diene missed a semester with malaria that caused him to lose 50 pounds. And he has been dogged with recurring leg problems throughout his career.

But those maladies were forgotten as Diene scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and notched a career-best five blocked shots. Before Thursday's game, Diene had scored 12 points combined in his past 12 games.

"Mamadou was huge in the blocked shots," Drew said. "Obviously, we wouldn't have won the game without him. I think that's a senior not wanting to play his last game."

Using a suffocating zone defense to perfection with Diene at its anchor, the Bears limited Kansas to 40.3 percent shooting.

The Bears realize they have to win the conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament. To do that, they will face another huge challenge Friday against Texas. Baylor will be attempting to snap a 24-game losing streak to the Longhorns that dates to Feb. 21, 1998.

"We're not satisfied with what we accomplished," Baylor senior forward Kevin Rogers said. "We didn't come here just to get halfway there. We definitely want to finish it out. And we still have that chance in front of us."

Tim Griffin covers college sports for ESPN.com. You may contact him at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.

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