In a nationally televised Monday night road matchup against the Texas Longhorns on March 2, the Baylor Bears had a chance to turn around what had, up until then, been a terribly disappointing season.
They were in the middle of a dismal stretch that saw the Bears go 2-8 in their previous 10 games, including losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State.
The Baylor men—a team that was projected to finish in the top half of the Big XII standings and had been a mainstay in the AP Top 25 poll just weeks earlier—was in the middle of a free fall.
But they still had an opportunity.
With a victory in Austin, coupled with a win against Nebraska in their final game of the regular season, the Bears would end their season at 19-11 (7-9), and would have had a shot—albeit a very small shot—at an NCAA tournament bid with a win or two in the Big XII tourney.
Instead, the Bears fell flat on their face, losing in embarrassing fashion to the Longhorns, 73-57. Then, just for good measure, they ended the season with a heartbreaking loss to the Cornhuskers at home.
Any talk of an NCAA tournament appearance would have been laughable. Any ideas of making a run in the Big XII tournament were ludicrous. This team was finished.
It's funny what a difference 10 days can make. Fresh off coach Scott Drew's biggest win of his young career, there is reason for hope again in Waco, if only for another day.
After avenging their regular season finale loss to Nebraska in the first round of the Big XII tourney, the Bears shocked the nation Thursday when they knocked off the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in a thriller that wasn't decided until the final seconds.
Before Thursday, the Bears had lost their previous eight games against the Jayhawks and were at the bad end of a dismal 14-1 overall series record between the two teams.
On Friday, the Bears will get a mulligan on their March 2 meltdown, as they once again take on the Texas Longhorns in an effort to save their season. In order to keep their NCAA hopes alive, however, the Bears will have to overcome an even longer losing streak.
The Longhorn have been an absolute heel to the Bears. Baylor has lost its last 24 games against Texas and has never beaten them in Big XII tournament play.
Still, after the huge Kansas win, there is a fresh new sense of optimism surrounding this team. And why not?
With a win Friday and one more win Saturday, the 2009 Baylor Bears—a team that up until Wednesday had been a disaster—can still make quite a few "firsts."
They can become the first team to win the Big XII tournament that was not a No. 1, 2, or 3 seed. They can also become the first Baylor men's team to ever win the Big XII tournament, and subsequently the first to ever reach the NCAA tournament two years in a row.
With just two more wins, these Bears can transform from possibly the most disappointing men's basketball team in school history to the most successful team in school history. What an opportunity!
The fight is still not over for these Bears. If anything, it has just begun. But for the first time since the beginning of conference play, this team is looking like the team that everyone thought they had the potential to be at the beginning of the year.
They are looking like a team with talent, discipline, and heart. They are finally looking like a team that not only wants to win, but believes they can win.
A team that once seemed content with mediocrity now appears determined to achieve greatness. Time will tell whether they are in fact destined for greatness, but they have at least made it a fun ride.
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