SAN ANTONIO (AP) For Doug McDermott and his Creighton teammates, the last two years at the NCAA tournament left them bitter after third-round losses robbed them of a chance to go farther than any Bluejays team before them.
They also were a major motivating factor in keeping this team together for another try.
With that goal in mind, McDermott skipped a chance to enter the NBA draft, rallying a senior-laden group to another big season. Third-seeded Creighton (27-7) plays No. 6 seed Baylor (25-11) on Sunday in the West Regional for a chance to advance to the round of 16 for the first time in school history.
”We’ve knocked on the door and come so close the last few years to try to get into that Sweet 16 and see what happens after that,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. ”I couldn’t think of a better way for their career to end than to go (farther) and have a chance to go to the Final Four.”
Creighton’s four senior starters give the Bluejays a blend of maturity and confidence to support a scorer like Doug McDermott, who leads the nation at 27 points per game.
Greg McDermott noted that the seniors could stay together because early career injuries led to redshirt seasons for Grant Gibbs and Ethan Wragge. Then his son Doug made the surprise decision not to turn pro.
”All of a sudden, you have these pieces in place again for a fourth year together,” Greg McDermott said. ”There is a confidence about them. … They believe in each other.”
The group that earned their chops in the Missouri Valley Conference stepped up to the Big East and played for the conference title in their first season.
”This is our last go around,” Doug McDermott said. ”We’ve been through so much together to get to this point.”
Baylor is a big and athletic team that all but collapsed in January, only to pick itself back up and turn things around with a frantic finish. Last season’s NIT champions started the season ranked No. 25 and rose as high as No. 7 behind a 13-1 start.
But the Bears nearly fell apart in the Big 12 with a 2-8 start in league play and were written off as one of the most disappointing teams in the country. They responded by winning 10 of their next 11 and made it to the Big 12 title game.
Baylor players called that life in the Big 12, arguably the best league in the country this season. Now the Bears are a team brimming with postseason confidence.
”No matter what we’ve been through this year, we feel like we’re a good team and we’re as good as any team in the country and can play with anybody,” Bears forward Royce O’Neale said.
Five things to know about Baylor vs. Creighton:
NO STOPPING MCDERMOTT: Doug McDermott has scored at least 30 points in four of the past five games. He had 30 on Friday against Louisiana-Lafayette. Baylor coach Scott Drew seemed to ready to concede him another 30 on Sunday, but hopes to keep it there.
”If we can just contest as many shots and make it as tough as we can so he can’t get into a rhythm,” Drew said. ”There is a difference between 30 points and 45 points.”
BAYLOR ZONE: With their size and athleticism, Baylor plays a zone defense that can be impenetrable with 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin and 6-10 forward Cory Jefferson. Add 6-7, 270 pound bruiser Rico Gathers and the Bears can intimidate anyone trying to get to the basket.
Creighton hardly seemed worried. They’ll just shoot over it. ”We have one of the best shooting teams in the country,” Doug McDermott said. ”We actually like it when we get zone.”
That wasn’t the case when Creighton lost the Big East title game to Providence when the Bluejays were 8 of 30 from 3-point range against the Friars’ zone.
BRADY BARRAGE: Baylor’s Brady Heslip is the Bears’ top 3-point shooter at 47 percent on the season. He struggled in Baylor’s second-round win over Nebraska missing all six of his attempts, but was 10 of 10 from the free throw line.
Heslip shrugged off the misfires and dared defenders to back off him Sunday.
”If they leave me open, I’m not going 0 for 6 again,” Heslip said.
BLIND SPOT: Baylor’s Austin is one of the top big men in the Big 12 and a top prospect for the NBA draft if he leaves school early. He’s also partially blind. Austin wears a prosthetic right eye, the result of a detached retina injury in junior high. Doctors tried four surgeries to correct the problem.