• Looking back on a special (though unusual) year for Baylor basketball

    Collage: Baylor Lady Bear seniors on senior day, and Baylor Bears huddling on court

    The Baylor Family could, pretty easily, remember 2019-20 as the year the NCAA tournament didn’t happen — the year we were ready to cheer on Lauren Cox and Freddie Gillespie in deep postseason runs, only to find out the season was over just as they were about to reach for the pinnacle.

    Or… We can remember 2019-20 as the record-setting, history-making year that it was, as both the Bears and Lady Bears continued to make the statement that few schools boast better basketball programs than Baylor.

    Let’s start with the Lady Bears. With the target on their back that only the reigning national champions can wear, head coach Kim Mulkey’s squad answered the bell time and time again, winning the program’s 10th straight Big 12 title before the season ground to a halt.

    Among the highlights: a dominating road win to snap then No. 1- ranked UConn’s 98-game home winning streak; an NCAA-record 14 made three-pointers in a single game by Juicy Landrum; Mulkey’s 600th career win, which came in her 700th game and made her the fastest coach ever to reach that milestone. Baylor finished the year ranked No. 3 in both national polls — the program’s eighth top-5 finish in the last 11 years.

    No team dominated the Big 12’s season-ending awards like the Lady Bears, as they won Big 12 Coach of the Year (Mulkey), Player of the Year (Cox), Defensive Player of the Year (DiDi Richards), Newcomer of the Year (Te’a Cooper) and Sixth Person of the Year (Queen Egbo). Richards followed that up by sweeping the national awards for defensive player of the year, while Cox became the sixth Lady Bear ever named a first-team AP All-American.

    The men’s basketball team began their season to remember innocently enough, with 1-1 record through the first two games. But after that first loss, they bounced back to win again. And again. And again.

    In the 24-year history of the Big 12, no team had ever won more than 22 straight games (and that was in the conference’s first year). But with a February win over Oklahoma, the Bears set a Big 12 record with their 23rd-consecutive victory, a streak that included the program’s first-ever win at Allen Fieldhouse and led to Baylor holding the No. 1 spot in the nation for a program-record five weeks. They finished Big 12 play with a 15-3 record, earned a 26-4 overall mark, and only lost one game all year by more than a single possession. The Bears finished the season with the best rankings in program history, coming in at No. 4 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 5 in the AP poll.

    Baylor was well-represented among the Big 12’s season-ending awards, claiming the Big 12 Coach of the Year (Scott Drew), Newcomer of the Year (Davion Mitchell), Sixth Man Award (Devonte Bandoo) and Most Improved Player (Freddie Gillespie). On the national level, sophomore guard Jared Butler earned consensus All-America honors; Drew finished as runner-up for the AP National Coach of the Year award; and junior forward Mark Vital was a finalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.

    Baylor was the only school in the country to finish 2020 in the AP top 5 in both men’s and women’s basketball, and no school had more AP basketball All-Americans in 2020 than Baylor.

    Two coaches of the year, two all-Americans, two defensive giants, two newcomers of the year, 13 All-Big 12 honorees, 54 wins and an array of memories to keep us smiling until the next time we’re able to come together at the Ferrell Center once again.

    Sic ’em, Bears and Lady Bears!