COLUMBIA — 2003 was a dark year for the Baylor Bears.
That year forward Patrick Dennehy was murdered by his teammate, Carlton Dotson. During an investigation after the murder, the NCAA discoved then-coach Dave Bliss had given tuition money to players in addition to failing to report some players’ drug use. Bliss and Athletic Director Tom Stanton resigned because of the incident.
In the 2005-06 season, Baylor was not allowed to play nonconference games because of sanctions imposed by the NCAA that stemmed from this event.
That and an overall poor basketball history contribute to Baylor being perhaps the most surprising team in college basketball this year.
The Bears are 19-8 overall, and 7-6 in the Big 12 Conference, which puts them in fifth place in the league. The last time the Bears had a winning record and were selected for postseason play was when they went 19-12 and made the NIT in 2000-01.
The beginning of Baylor’s turnaround began in last season’s Big 12 Tournament. The Bears finished the season in 11th place in the Big 12 and were matched up against sixth-place Missouri in the first round. In that game, Baylor made 63 percent of its shots on its way to a 97-83 upset. In the next game, the Bears held a 20-point second half lead against the Kevin Durant-led Texas Longhorns, but were unable to secure a victory, losing 74-69.
“That game right there was a breakout game for them,” forward Leo Lyons said of last year’s game against Missouri. “So we know what to expect this time. They’ve got a lot of good guard play, so we’ve got to try to stop that.”
This season, the Bears returned their core scorers and added freshman guard LaceDarius Dunn, a top-50 recruit who scored 34.3 points per game as a high school senior last year.
In the Tigers’ game against Oklahoma State on Tuesday, 14 Cowboy 3-pointers contributed to a Missouri loss. Baylor is second in the Big 12 in 3-point field goal shooting at 38.8 percent.
“We’ve got to make sure we guard those guys,” MU coach Mike Anderson said. “They can shoot threes too. Oklahoma State shot it well (Tuesday), but they (Baylor) really can. They’ve got three or four guards that really can.”
Baylor has four players, Tweety Carter, Aaron Bruce, Henry Dugat and Dunn, shooting better than 38 percent from the arc. But these players won’t just stand beyond the 3-point line and chuck up shots.
“They can put it on the floor,” Anderson said of the team’s guards. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”
Anderson said that Tuesday night Oklahoma State did what teams are supposed to do when they are playing away from home.
“Hopefully we can do the same thing to Baylor, and that is just kind of hang around and give yourself a chance,” Anderson said.
LYONS QUALIFIES: Leo Lyons has been making shots at a high percentage all season, but until Tuesday, he did not meet the minimum requirements to appear on the list of leaders in field goal percentage for the Big 12.
After his 12-for-13 shooting performance on Tuesday, Lyons finally reached the minimum of five made field goals per game to get on the list. Since he now qualifies, Lyons leads the conference in field goal percentage at 62.4 percent. Nebraska center Aleks Maric is second at 56.7 percent.