At last season’s Big 12 tournament, Baylor fell just short in its run toward an improbable NCAA tournament bid.
The 21st-ranked Bears enter this season’s conference showcase with an NCAA spot all but wrapped up, but they would love to add the program’s first tournament title.
The quest for that elusive championship begins with Thursday night’s quarterfinal matchup against a Texas team looking to atone for a disappointing season.
Baylor entered the 2009 Big 12 tournament as the No. 9 seed after finishing 5-11 in conference play. Instead of a quiet exit, the Bears beat Nebraska, regular-season champion Kansas and the Longhorns before losing to Missouri in the championship game.
After being denied a second straight NCAA tournament berth, they used that momentum to reach the NIT championship game – where they lost 69-63 to Penn State.
Baylor (24-6) starts postseason play looking to tie the program’s single-season record for victories set in 1945-46, and with its best tournament seed (No. 3) since joining the Big 12 in 1996-97.
The Bears also come in having won four in a row, including Saturday’s 92-77 home victory over Texas.
“We still have to work hard, but it’s a good momentum boost,” senior guard Tweety Carter said. “Last year, with no momentum, we made it to the championship game.”
Second team All-Big 12 guard LaceDarius Dunn led the way with 30 points in Baylor’s third straight win over the Longhorns, and sophomore forward Quincy Acy added a career-high 24. Carter, a third-team conference selection, scored a team-high 27 points in an 80-77 overtime win at Texas on Jan. 30.
Texas, meanwhile, dropped eight of 14 to finish the regular season after earning its first No. 1 ranking in program history Jan. 11. The Longhorns dubiously became the fifth team to hold the top spot and drop out of the poll in the same season earlier this month.
Their first conference tournament title since 1995 would help ease some of that sting, and extend their school record of consecutive NCAA berths to 12.
Sixth-seeded Texas got that drive started with an 82-75 win over No. 11 seed Iowa State on Wednesday. The Longhorns (24-6) held a 12-point lead with 4:34 remaining but had that advantage sliced in half with one minute left before pulling away.
Damion James matched a season high with 28 points and had his best rebounding effort (16) since a career-high 19 in the home loss to Baylor. The Big 12’s leading rebounder with 10.4 per game and Longhorns’ top scorer at 18.0 points per game, James averaged 19 points and 13.5 rebounds against the Bears this season.
“It’s not fun when you’re losing, man,” James said. “I just felt like we got right back where we need to be, like we were at the beginning of the year. (We were) attacking on offense and defense. When you’re doing that, you’re having fun.”
After averaging 6.8 points in his final 17 regular season games, Dexter Pittman scored 16 against the Cyclones. Gary Johnson, who had a career-best 25 points against the Bears last weekend, added 15 in his second start of the season.
Texas hasn’t lost to Baylor three times in the same season since 1981-82.
The winner of this game will face No. 9 Kansas State or Oklahoma State in Friday’s semifinals.