With its third Big 12 tournament win in as many days, No. 9 seed Baylor became the lowest-seeded team to advance to the title game since No. 10 Missouri did it in the conference’s inaugural 1996-97 season.
The Tigers didn’t win the tournament championship that year, and they don’t plan on letting the Bears complete their improbable run with a title, either.
The No. 3 seed and 14th-ranked Tigers look to improve their resume for the NCAA tournament and end the Bears’ bid for an NCAA berth Saturday night in the Big 12 tournament’s championship game at the Ford Center.
Baylor (20-13) defeated No. 8 seed Nebraska in a mild upset in its tournament opener Wednesday before shocking top-seeded Kansas the next day.
The Bears continued their run Friday night with a 76-70 semifinal victory over No. 5 seed Texas. They’re now one win away from an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, something that seemed all but impossible at the start of the week.
“I believe in God, and I know he can do miracles,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “So I definitely believe.”
No team seeded lower than third has won this tournament. No. 10 Missouri came close in 1997, before getting blown out by top-seeded Kansas in the title game. Baylor doesn’t plan on going as quietly.
“We came into (the tournament) the underdog, and we took that as a chip on our shoulder,” senior guard Henry Dugat said after scoring 17 points in Friday’s win. “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.”
However, so are the Tigers (27-6), who overcame a poor shooting performance Friday night to keep alive their chances of winning their first tournament title. Missouri shot just 37.5 percent but outscored No. 7 seed Oklahoma State 32-21 in the final 13:23 to pull out a 67-59 win.
Leo Lyons scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half and Zaire Taylor added a season-high 19.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “But sometimes ugly is better for us. … I always say shooting comes and goes, and it went tonight. I thought our defense was the constant.”
Missouri’s offense was more effective in its first meeting with Baylor. The 6-foot-9 Lyons scored a career-high 30 points and went 8-for-11 from the field and DeMarre Carroll added 25 while shooting 7-for-14 in the Tigers’ 89-72 home victory Jan. 31.
Baylor had won its previous two meetings with Missouri, including a 97-83 upset victory in the opening round of the 2007 Big 12 tournament. Another conference tournament upset of Missouri would give Baylor its second consecutive NCAA tourney bid after a 19-year drought.
“We got here for a reason,” Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn said. “We got here for just leaving it out on the court at the end of the game.”
The Tigers, though, aren’t worried about becoming the Bears’ next victim.
“We are going to stop what they are doing because their guards have been hot,” Lyons said. “We witnessed it before. This is a chance for us to show where our team is at now.”
Dunn, averaging 19.3 points in the tournament, had 13 in the January loss to Missouri. Senior guard Curtis Jerrells averaged 21.8 points in his first four games against Missouri before the Tigers held him to five points and 2-for-10 shooting in that game. They also forced Jerrells to commit a career-high nine turnovers.