|Baylor's Quincy Acy (center) grabs a rebound in front of Kansas' Jeff Withey in the Bears' win. (US Presswire)|
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This is one of those times when it was OK to root on press row.
It was OK to scream our guts out. Pump our fists. High five. We're not supposed to care who wins. On Saturday, we did. Every last one of us who came to see history at the Sprint Center wanted to see Kansas-Missouri one more time.
Sorry. Call our editors. Pull our credentials. We root like hell all the time -- for the best stories. It just so happens Baylor flushed the best one of this weekend -- maybe this season -- when it beat No. 3 Kansas 81-72 in a Big 12 semi here Saturday night.
The Bears deserved everything they got. We didn't. First a Heisman for Baylor, then athletic apparel history. It seems Baylor's really serious about this hostile takeover of college athletics, especially when it caused the bottom to drop out of the secondary ticket market here at the Big 12 tournament.
|More on Kansas-Baylor|
|More college hoops coverage|
This city and region wanted KU-MU Round 3 so bad that Grand Ave., which runs in front of the Sprint Center, was thick with scalpers -- legally licensed, of course. Judging by the exchange of cash Friday afternoon, business was brisk in anticipation of the "right" matchup.
The tickets obviously did not come with a disclaimer that Baylor might win, screwing the market and those of us who were jonesing for KU-MU one more time with feeling. In case you missed the vitriol over the last few months, Missouri is leaving for the SEC.
Baylor definitely missed it, deviating from a prepared text. The marquee now reads Missouri and Baylor in Saturday’s tournament championship. As it turns out Kansas could be courting a second loss -- potentially being knocked from the top line on Selection Sunday.
"It's unfortunate that a lot of rivalries have disappeared because of realignment," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Every fan should be saddened."
Not every fan. The small slice of Bears rooters in a sea of crimson and blue were the only ones being heard following Kansas' first loss in five weeks. In two days here Baylor may have done more for its basketball brand than it has all season.
Since early December, Baylor has basically become a rising athletic powerhouse. Robert Griffin III won that Heisman. The Bears started 17-0 in hoops. The women are undefeated and ranked No. 1 playing Saturday in the women's tournament championship. At one point Baylor was sporting a combined 40-game winning streak between football, men's basketball and women's basketball.
Then there were the uniforms. If you thought Thursday's Human Highlighters were out there, Friday's camouflage green numbers were outrageous.
"I actually like these," said guard A.J. Walton after coming off the bench to score 12 points. "Lime green is almost too bright for me."
For all of us. The uniforms got our attention. We're hooked because of the basketball. Before this week who thought we'd be asking this question: Which of the teams that played that first semifinal looks more dangerous right now?
"Baylor," Walton said. "We have a lot of weapons."
Walton is biased. He's also part of a collection of athletes who, when they man up, have Elite Eight potential. They led by 13, blew it, then showed how a tournament team -- and NCAA tournament team -- finishes.
In front of a hostile crowd, six Bears got into double figures. Against a national Player of the Year candidate (Thomas Robinson), Baylor's Perry Jones III had his second big game in as many days. His twisting baseline move that he finished lefthanded put the Bears up 67-62 with less than three minutes left. In two tournament games Jones has 49 points and 18 rebounds.
"They [critics] only see the same old Baylor, but we're doing big things this year," Walton said. "Not winning on the road, having Kansas [almost] beat you three times in a season, having K-State beat you, having Missouri beat you. It was on a downward spiral."
The Bears were 0-4 against Missouri and Kansas before Saturday. Consider now the Bears have the same record as the Jayhawks, 27-6. One is a regular-season conference champion. The other one is hotter.
This Baptist Notre Dame's religious underpinnings seem to reveal some variation of Noah's Ark at every turn. Not exactly two of everything, but salvation from something. Guard Brady Heslip transferred from Boston College when Al Skinner was fired a few years ago.
The 3-point specialist looks more Brady Bunch than gangsta. The Burlington, Ontario native had the same high school history teacher as Baylor AD Ian McCaw, another Canadian.
"If he [Heslip] was in the park, he wouldn't be the first person picked," Walton said.
No, but he can stick daggers from the arc. There were two of them in the form of killer 3's in the final two minutes that doomed the Jayhawks.
"We came out here and wanted to get respect," Heslip said. "We had a mindset in this tournament that we were going to do something different."
Different means that the Bears happen to be the second-best story to come out of the Big 12 semis. Different means having to remember Feb. 25 for what it was -- an epic to end an epic rivalry.
"I didn't come over here thinking about the rivalry," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We were just trying to win the game."
Different means Kansas leaving here the same way as those scalpers stuck with all those tickets -- empty-handed.