WACO (AP) – As Baylor players flipped tires during a workout on the day the Bears got a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, their strength and conditioning coach delivered a message.
“All Coach Charlie (Melton) was yelling at us was, ‘We’re not going to get bounced in the first round!'” said Ishmail Wainright, Baylor’s lone senior. “I’m pretty sure we’re motivated.”
While the Bears have made the Elite Eight twice under coach Scott Drew, their most recent March memories are true madness — getting upset by double-digits seeds each of the last two years.
First came R.J. Hunter’s 3-pointer for 14th-seeded Georgia State that knocked his coaching father out of his seat and Baylor out of the 2015 tournament. Last year, Yale was a No. 12 seed and making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in more than a half-century and held on for a 79-75 win over the Bears .
Baylor (25-7), making its fourth consecutive tournament appearance and seventh in 10 years, plays Friday against 14th-seeded WAC Tournament champion New Mexico State (28-5) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
There is not much Drew has to say to remind his players, including six who played against Yale a year ago, about the perils of overlooking a double-digit seed.
“The best teacher is the personal experience,” Drew said. “The personal experience of going home after one game, not having a chance to advance, I know that hurt them like it hurt all of us coaches. So hopefully that’s motivation. … It doesn’t matter what the seed number is.”
Baylor has certainly found that out the hard way with early exits and quick trips back to Waco.
After starting this season 15-0, the Bears reached No. 1 in the AP poll for the first time ever in early January. They have lost six of their last 11 games, all against Big 12 teams and while point guard Manu Lecomte has dealt with a sprained right ankle.
Drew said Lecomte has improved since the Bears lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament last Thursday, and that the extra time before the NCAA Tournament was beneficial for the guard to “get back in the flow of things” with teammates in practice. Drew also said All-Big 12 forward Johnathan Motley isn’t having any real issues with the dislocated finger on his left hand sustained against K-State.
The Bears didn’t play New Mexico State this season, but beat them in each of the previous two seasons in their only meetings since 1980. All 10 games so far in the deadlocked series have been played in December.
A win over the Aggies would send Baylor to a potential second-round matchup against SMU. The former Southwest Conference rivals haven’t played since 2004, and have met only four times since the SWC broke up more than two decades ago.
But the Bears, ranked 12th and a spot below SMU in the final AP Top 25 poll, say they aren’t thinking about who might be next.
“We have to play like our backs are against the wall and we have nothing to lose,” said Wainright, who will be the first Baylor men’s player to participate in four NCAA Tournaments.
Before the upsets, Wainright was part of a Sweet 16 team as a freshman in 2014, when Motley and junior guard Al Freeman were both redshirting.
“I was in the locker room after we beat Creighton and beat Nebraska and then went to the Sweet 16. I know the feeling of that. I also know the feeling of being in the tournament and then losing in the first round,” Wainright said. “We don’t want our last game of the season to be an ‘L’, especially in the first round.”
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