Baylor basketball team hopes NCAAs can help school amid scandal

Baylor’s basketball players are hoping a deep run in the NCAA Tournament can help improve the school’s reputation amid a sexual assault scandal that sparked a federal lawsuit and prompted the university to fire its football coach and demote its president, who later resigned.

“We want to do something positive for our school and represent Baylor in the way we know it should be represented,” guard King McClure said as the third-seeded Bears prepared to play No. 11 seed Southern California in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

Baylor faces several federal lawsuits from women who say the school mishandled, ignored or suppressed their claims of assault for years, including several cases involving football players. The school also faces a federal civil rights investigation. Baylor fired football coach Art Briles last May and demoted then-university President Ken Starr, who later resigned, after an outside law firm determined that the school had mishandled cases.

Additionally, two football staffers were recently fired, one for soliciting prostitution and the other for sending inappropriate text messages to a teenager.

After the Baylor women’s basketball team defeated Texas Tech late in the regular season, coach Kim Mulkey added to the negative attention when she decried the hit the school’s reputation has taken. She told Baylor fans that if people tell them they will never send their daughters to Baylor, they should “knock them right in the face.” Mulkey later apologized.

Forward Johnathan Motley said the best way the basketball team can lift Baylor’s name is to focus on the task at hand.

“We’re just worried about us and what kind of guys we are in this locker room,” he said. “Winning would be good for us to be able to say we made it to the Sweet 16. But that’s not just what we’re all focused about. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time and make sure we handle our business on and off the court.”

Baylor was upset in its tournament opener the past two years before breaking through with a win over New Mexico State on Friday. To reach the Sweet 16, it will have to beat an 11th-seeded USC team that has already rallied from double-digit deficits in the second half in two tournament wins.

Motley said the way the Bears closed out against New Mexico State — outscoring the Aggies 53-33 in the second half of a 91-73 win — will give them a chance against USC.

“Just playing to win and not to lose,” he said. “We kind of started doing that in the New Mexico State game. We just made sure we kept attacking. You can’t get complacent.”

A win would put Baylor in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2014 and bring some attention back to the playing surface.

“I think it would mean a lot to our fans,” Baylor guard Al Freeman said. “Everybody’s goal is to get to the championship game and to win it. We’re just going to try to stay focused and do what we’re going to do, and we’re hoping we can bring back some joy to the Baylor community.”

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