Scott Drew watched his Baylor team fall apart with a midseason swoon that wiped away some newfound high expectations in his program.
After three upsets in as many days, his Bears are on the verge of making all those struggles a distant memory.
LaceDarius Dunn hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:12 remaining and Baylor ended a 24-game losing streak against Texas, advancing to the Big 12 championship game for the first time with a 76-70 victory Friday night.
One more win and the Bears will be NCAA tournament-bound, just as they thought they’d be at the beginning of the season—even if it seemed all but impossible as recently as the start of the week.
“I believe in God, and I know he can do miracles,” Drew said. “So I definitely believe.”
Kevin Rogers scored 20 points and Henry Dugat added 17 as the ninth-seeded Bears (20-13) kept their bid alive to become the first team to sweep four games in four days to win the Big 12 championship. The only team to advance to the Big 12 title game with a lower seed was 10th-seeded Missouri, which did it in the tournament’s inaugural year in 1997.
No team seeded lower than third has won the tournament.
“We came into it the underdog, and we took that as a chip on our shoulder,” Dugat said. “We came in, we knew what we had to do and … it’s not over yet. We’ve still got one more step to do, and we’re ready and willing to do it.”
A.J. Abrams scored 20 points to lead Texas (22-11), which had reached the finals the past three years. Damion James added 11 points and Gary Johnson 10.
Baylor had not beaten its in-state rival since 1998, before Rick Barnes took over as the Longhorns’ coach and reeled off two dozen wins against the opponent Texas has played more than anyone else in its history.
“I really don’t like that streak,” Drew said. “It’s a situation where you had so many close games with Texas and chances, and you just knew it’s just a matter of time before you’re going to break through.”
After backup guard Varez Ward scored four straight points to put Texas up 65-61 with 2:39 left, the Bears reeled off eight straight points to take a surprising lead.
Dunn had his first 3-point try swatted out of bounds by Damion James at the left wing, but he came right back moments later and connected from the opposite side to put Baylor up 67-65.
“I just felt it,” Dunn said, before adding: “I felt the first one I had before Damion smacked it out of bounds.”
Abrams missed a 3-pointer at the other end before Curtis Jerrells hit two foul shots to stretch the Bears’ lead to four. A deep 3-pointer by Abrams got Texas back within 72-70, but Dunn then sealed it with four more free throws. Baylor’s bench emptied onto the court as players celebrated a long-sought win.
The Bears will face either No. 14 Missouri or Oklahoma State in the championship game Saturday night.
“This time of the year, it’s going to be a very fine line between winning and losing, and coming down the stretch we didn’t make the plays that we needed to make,” Barnes said.
Dunn finished with 16 points and Jerrells added 13. The Bears outrebounded Texas 35-27 and had 21 points off of their 18 offensive rebounds.
“We got here for a reason,” Dunn said. “We got here for just leaving it out on the court at the end of the game.”
After breaking a 20-year NCAA tournament drought last year, the Bears headed into the Big 12 tourney destined for the NIT at best. They started out the season 12-1 and spent seven weeks in the Top 25, but then stumbled all the way out of the NCAA tournament discussion with a six-game losing streak in the middle of Big 12 play.
“The big thing is we had such high expectations and goals set for ourselves,” Drew said. “Once you realize you don’t meet those, it is tough.”
Hope only returned with a stunning upset of 11th-ranked Kansas, marking just the second time the Big 12’s top seed had fallen in the quarterfinals. The only other time that happened was back in 2001, when the Bears made their only other semifinal appearance after knocking off No. 1 seed Iowa State.
Now, they’re on to the finals to see if they can finish off an even more improbable run.
“We didn’t make it this far,” Dugat said,” “for nothing.”