There’s no way to know just how long the window will be open for the Baylor Bears, but so far the green and gold have shown no ability to climb through it and reach the Final Four. Baylor has had solid players and a good coach in Scott Drew, but year after year, the Bears disappoint in the NCAA tournament when a trip to the Final Four is right around the corner.
That trend continued Thursday night in the West Regional semifinal at Anaheim, Calif., where the Bears were bounced by the Wisconsin Badgers in emphatic fashion, 69-52. Forward Cory Jefferson led the Bears with 15 points, while Issac Austin and guard Kenny Chery each added 12.
But it wasn’t enough on a night where Baylor (26-12) really struggled to guard Wisconsin and shot just 31 percent from the field against the Badgers’ trademark defense. Baylor went just 2-of-15 from 3-point range.
All of that added up to another painful loss for the Bears, who have reached the NIT final twice in the last six years (winning once), and advanced to the Elite Eight twice in the NCAA tournament, but have yet to crash the Final Four party. Baylor has won at least 21 games in six of the last seven seasons now, including 28 in 2009-10 and 30 in 2011-12, both seasons where the Bears fell in the regional final, one agonizing step away from the Final Four.
A win over Wisconsin would have put Baylor at the doorstep again, but it wasn’t to be. It seems like it’s never to be for the Bears. Purdue, Duke, Kentucky and Wisconsin have now been the villains, ending Baylor’s NCAA tournament runs before reaching the promised land. Baylor even turned the odd trick of reaching the 2010 regional final, losing to Duke, missing the tournament entirely in 2011, then making it all the way to the regional final in 2012 again before being eliminated by Kentucky.
Prior to 2008, Baylor hadn’t even been in the NCAA tournament for 20 years. But given the success the Bears have had for most of the last decade, you would expect them to kick the door down to college basketball’s biggest party at some point, or at least be constantly striving to take the next step. That progression is what seems to be missing for Baylor.
While winning 170 games in the last seven seasons is excellent, the Bears have yet to go to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years during that span.
For all those who have believed over the last several years that Baylor was truly on the brink of something big, Thursdays’ hammering by the Badgers was another cruel reminder of the Bears coming up short once again.