Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2001

Lowly Baylor’ rises to occasion

Bears on top of world after toppling Jayhawks on Monday Night in Waco, Texas

February 15, 2001

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A stranger walks up to DeMarcus Minor on the Baylor campus Tuesday to thank him.

"I don't understand anything about basketball," the fellow says, his tone apologetic, "but I appreciate what you did last night."

Not knowing about basketball, wasn't that the Bears' story going into Monday's game against sixth-ranked Kansas University?

One winning season in the last six. A postseason drought as long as that of the Dallas Mavericks.

Even after the Bears won their first dozen games this season, no one was taking them seriously. Kansas' Kenny Gregory didn't. Last week, he defended a couple of the Jayhawks' losses by saying it wasn't as if they had lost to Texas A&M; or Baylor.

"He should never have said that," the Bears' Terry Black says.

So what if the Bears won their first 12? They'd also lost six of their last nine.

Then the Jayhawks pull up Monday at the Ferrell Center for the first nationally televised game that anyone can remember at Baylor, and it's a party. Radio talk show going live in the parking lot. Fans tailgating, looking just like the scene at a big-time basketball school.

Baylor officials hand out 4,000 gold T-shirts and 5,000 white "growl towels." A video board is up at one end of the arena, first time ever, taking a direct feed from the ESPN2 game.

KU coach Roy Williams sees all this, goes in to talk to his players before the game and finds a team as dead as Kevin Bacon's movie career.

"I didn't like some things I saw in the locker room," Williams said later. "I challenged 'em. I said, 'Fellas, you have got to understand it's their first Big Monday game.'"

The Jayhawks, they didn't buy it. C'mon, coach. This is Baylor.

Or, as the Lawrence Journal-World put it in Tuesday's editions: "Baylor lowly Baylor, of all teams "

But something got into the Bears on Monday. Maybe it was the confidence born in that 12-game winning streak, allowing a young team to grow up.

"Everybody pooh-poohed the schedule," Baylor coach Dave Bliss says. "But if we had really been whipped a few times, last night never would have happened."

Who would have believed it? Baylor had a 25-point lead at the half. The Bears were so confident at that point, they were already working on their postgame quotes.

Of course, the Jayhawks came back. You don't get to be one of the best teams in the country, year after year, by rolling over, and they methodically whittled away on the lead.

Still, the Bears held on for an 85-77 shocker, the school's biggest at home since beating No. 3 Arkansas in 1990, apparently so long ago that no one remembers how to conduct themselves in such situations.

So they went nuts.

"With 45 seconds left, you could see the fans piling up around the court," Minor says. "You see that kind of thing all the time on TV, and you always wonder, 'What would that be like?'"

Madness, that's what. So many fans came out of the stands, swamping the court, swallowing the teams whole, you'd have thought the Baptists had legalized dancing.

"Crowd control is not one of our strengths," Bliss says, laughing. "But college basketball is supposed to be fun. What helps you with a game like this is your fans can have a piece of what they see everybody else has."

A tangible piece.

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