Bill Henderson took the reigns of the team for the second time in 1945, serving for only a year during the 1942-43 season, and it was under Coach Henderson that Baylor Basketball would win a then-school-record 25 games during the 1945-46 season, starting the season on a nine-game winning streak. As a result of such monumental success for the program, the Bears captured another SWC title and went dancing for the first time in school history, appearing in their first NCAA Tournament. Coach Henderson’s squad made it to the Western Regional, held that year in Kansas City, MO, but fell to both Oklahoma A&M (later to be known as Oklahoma State) and Colorado.
After a slump in Henderson’s first consecutive years of coaching the Bears, he led the program to a 24-8 record during the 1947-48 season. Baylor Basketball earned it second trip to the NCAA Tournament and fought its way to the first Final Four in school history. It was there that the Bears’ first matchup with the Kentucky Wildcats came in the National Championship game. Led by now legendary coach Adolph Rupp (for which Rupp Arena is named), the Wildcats defeated the Bears 58-42, sending Baylor home with a second place finish nationally.
1948 also saw some firsts for the college sports world, with the debut of the AP Top 20 rankings. The Bears would eventually climb their way into the rankings, debuting at No. 18 on January 25, 1949. At the end of the 1949-50 season, Baylor would claim its fourth SWC conference title. Even so, the Bears failed to make the NCAA Tournament, losing to Arizona in the NCAA Division Six Playoffs. Not to be overlooked, however, is yet another first. James “Red” Owens became the first Baylor Basketball player drafted by a professional team when he was selected No. 21 overall by the Washington Capitals, then a part of the Basketball Association of America.
Anyone simply looking at the history of Baylor Basketball may overlook the 1949-50 season, which resulted in a 14-13 record. Yet, the Bears managed to bring home their fifth and final Southwest Conference title and clawed their way to their second NCAA Final Four. This time, however, Baylor fell to Bradley, the top team in the country, in the semi-final and finishing in fourth overall after losing to No. 5 North Carolina State.
To this day, this remarkable period of Baylor Basketball success is remembered with banners hanging in the team’s practice gym, reminding the current players that they have something to live up to.