By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Here’s one prediction that will prove correct: The winner of this year’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship will make history.
No seed lower than No. 3 has ever cut the nets. But Friday’s semifinal results assured that the winner Saturday night in the Sprint Center will be the biggest “Cinderella” in the events 18 years.
No. 4 seed Iowa State (25-7) will take on No. 7 seed Baylor (24-10) at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The last time the Cyclones played for the championship was 2000 when they won it. The Bears have played in and lost the championship game in 2009 and 2012.
“We’ve got a great opportunity to do something not many Iowa State teams have done,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.
And what no team has done in Big 12 Championship history is capture the trophy by winning four games in four days. Baylor is the last to win three to reach the final before losing, doing that in 2009. Missouri (1997 and 2003) and Oklahoma State (1999) also tried and failed the four-in-four gambit.
“We’ve got energy and we’re rolling and we feel good about how we are playing,” said Baylor guard, who was a sophomore on the 2012 Baylor team that lost in the championship game to Missouri. “If you are playing for a championship, it doesn’t matter if you’ve played 10 games in 10 nights before that. You’ll get yourself ready to play.
“I just want to win a championship with these guys, with this team.”
Baylor has won 10 of its last 11 as it has resurrected what appeared to be a disappointing season. One of those victories came over Iowa State in Waco on March 4. The Bears’ zone and size limited the Cyclones to 40 percent shooting and held Iowa State post players Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang to combined 5-of-25 shooting.
“I think they're a team that's very hard to zone,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “And I know we got our work cut out for us.”
In two victories in the Sprint Center, Iowa State has averaged 92.5 points and has made 19-of-37 from 3-point range. All five starters scored in double figures in the semifinal victory over top-seeded Kansas.
“It shows how versatile this team is, how many weapons we have and how hard we're to beat when we're all clicking,” Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim said. “We're doing a real good job and we're really rolling right now. We think we’re playing pretty good basketball and can play with anyone in the country.”