By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN ANTONIO - Those aware of expansion and realignment of college conferences can point to the Baylor-Nebraska NCAA Tournament game and make the case that the Cornhuskers' former membership in the Big 12 Conference is a significant story line.
"It's not a rivalry," Baylor senior guard Brady Heslip said.
"I see it as completely new," Baylor senior Cory Jefferson added. "It's been a long time since they were in the conference."
Friday's second-round game between No. 6 seed Baylor and No. 11 seed Nebraska has a much more appropriate hook. About six weeks ago, there appeared little chance that either team would be playing in a tournament with a four-letter acronym instead of a three-letter (NIT)
"Very pleased to have that NCAA banner behind us," Baylor coach Scott Drew said in the interview room with a background featuring the NCAA logo. "But I think us and Nebraska are very similar."
Baylor overcame a 2-8 start in Big 12 play and rallied to finish 9-9 to assure an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Cornhuskers, in their third season in the Big Ten Conference, were picked to finish last and lost five of their first six league games.
"I wouldn't have bet you any amount of money we were going to make it," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.
Baylor has won 10 of its last 12 games. The Bears' zone defense started to toughen up and that coincided with the team's fast finish. Sophomore Isaiah Austin has become a rim protector. He blocked a record 18 shots in four games in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Basketball Championship.
"In our wins we've guarded well and in our losses we haven't," said Drew, whose team won the NIT championship last season. "We need to take care of the ball, rebound and play defense. If we do that, we shouldn't be worried about how we shoot the ball."
11:40 a.m. Friday, San Antonio
No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska (19-12)
Probable Baylor starters: Brady Heslip, 6-2 Sr. G; Kenny Chery, 5-11 Jr. G; Royce O'Neale, 6-6 Jr. F; Cory Jefferson, 6-9 Sr. F; Isaiah Austin 7-1 Soph. C.
Probable Nebraska starters: Shavon Shields, 6-7 Soph. G; G Ray Gallegos, 6-2 Sr. G; Tai Webster, 6-4 Fr. G; (4.2, 2.1 rpg, 2.0 apg); Terran Petteway, 6-6 Soph. F; Walter Pitchford, 6-10, Soph. F.
Fast breaks: In 2010 and 2012, Baylor reached the Elite Eight and lost to the eventual national champion (Duke in '10 and Kentucky '12). … Nine of the Bears' 11 losses this season came to teams that reached the NCAA Tournament. … At one point earlier this season, Baylor and Nebraska were a combined 2-11 in conference play. … The Cornhuskers won 10 of their last 13 games and finished fourth in the Big Ten standings after being picked to finish last in the preseason. … Terran Petteway, a 6-6 sophomore forward, led the Big Ten in scoring with 18 points per game. He spent his freshman season at Texas Tech before transferring.
What's next: The winner of Baylor-Nebraska plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 3 Creighton and No. 14 Louisiana Lafayette.