WACO _ Like most teams across the country, the Baylor Bears went into this season hopeful of nabbing a berth in the NCAA tournament.
So when that dream was dashed and Baylor wound up in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), there was so immediate celebration by the Bears.
"We didn't get into the one we wanted to get into with the four letters,'' said Baylor assistant coach Matthew Driscoll, referring to the NCAA. "But we did get into the one with three letters (NIT).
"No, it's not the one that's perceived to be the greatest one, and we know that. But it is the national championship and that's important to us.''
Baylor (23-14) meets San Diego State (26-9) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the semifinals round of the NIT Final Four. The game will be held at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The Bears made a fierce run to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. But after opening the Big 12 postseason by beating Nebraska, Kansas and Texas, Baylor lost to Missouri in the conference postseason championship game.
Now, as the nation goes crazy over the more prestigious NCAA tourney, the Bears must put that missed opportunity behind them and concentrate on the task at hand.
"I think it's great to go to New York and be in the Final Four,'' guard LaceDarius Dunn said. "But I think this is not where we wanted to be.
"Coming into the season we were looking at bigger and better things, but we've got to take it as it comes. I think it'll be a great thing for us to to go in Madison Square Garden. Hopefully we can pull out what we want to get out of this, which is to win the whole thing.''
Baylor head coach Scott Drew has to make sure his team goes to New York with the right attitude. He has to remind them to forget about the NCAA and lock in on San Diego State.
"Human nature is after any loss or disappointment you're going to be down,'' Drew said. "But again it's a great opportunity to play in the postseason.''
Drew used a football analogy to describe the difference between the NIT and NCAA.
"The BCS bowls are like the NCAA tournament,'' Drew said. "Teams are getting at-large bids and then the rest of the teams go to the NIT.
"It's like going to a bowl. Those bowls are great bowls. They just might not be BCS bowls.
"The NIT is a great field. It has great exposure now with ESPN.''
Notre Dame faces Penn State in Tuesday's other NIT semifinal. Meanwhile, Baylor enters its game against San Diego State with wins in six of its last seven games. And with the NCAA tournament in its rear view mirror.
"This was the year we thought we'd do it,'' Driscoll said of the Bears' (NCAA) championship aspirations. "But the second thing is we only came here to do one thing, and that's to win a national championship.''
And an NIT national championship will suit the Bears just fine.
-- Dwain Price