WACO, Texas — Baylor University, one of only four schools to boast championship pedigree for both the men’s and women’s programs, now has an arena worthy of its basketball stature. The Foster Pavilion at once pays homage to the successes of the past by featuring the actual center courts (below or all over social media) from each of Baylor’s Indianapolis-hosted championships (2005, 2021) and future trophy cases (yet to be installed), while also making the unmistakeable statement that great days are ahead.
The quintessential feature of this arena — the total lack of a center-hung video board — instantly communicates that Foster Pavilion is about basketball first and foremost. No view is obstructed, no flashing light distracts. It’s you, the gorgeous floor, and the brilliant team you came to see. The uniquely shaped, stunningly sharp video boards on either end are there with all the stats and hype you need, whenever you care to glance at them. And just as a fallback, the brain-thumping sound system could wake the Immortal Ten if the Bears need some extra subs.
“We’ve waiting a long time to have a home court advantage like this,” Scott Drew said after the game. “There’s a couple of arenas where when you get done your head feels like you were at a concert, and now ours is one of them.” For the players, Drew said their time seeing the new building is a bit like “kids getting new Christmas presents.” That sentiment was echoed by the players, who also appreciate what the new arena provides. For the When asked postgame, each player had their own favorite feature, though only having been in the Foster two or three times, including tonight’s game. “The stands,” said freshman star Ja’Kobe Walter, while senior transfer RayJ Dennis preferred some of the more technical parts. “For me personally, the lights,” he commented. “I was looking at the video board the whole game” to see the score and replays, he added.
In what was tantamount to a dress rehearsal for the Pavilion’s first Big 12 conference game as the women’s team hosts TCU, the No. 18 Baylor Bears (11-2, 0-0) tallied the first of many victories in Foster, defeating the Cornell Big Red 98-79.
The final margin somewhat belied a troubling second half in which Baylor surrendered a 15-0 run to a Cornell team that played 18 different players in constant rotation. During the run, the Bears struggled with the aggressive double-teams Cornell threw at the guards, particularly in the full court where the Big Red forced its second 10-second violation of the game as Baylor endured a 4+ minute scoring drought. Basketball is a game of runs, but that kind of offensive struggle can be troubling, particularly after the weaknesses exposed in the Michigan State game.
Still, a 19-point win in the end will make this seems like just another big win over a non-power conference team. That undersells how good Cornell has been this season. They made a late run against Syracuse a month ago, and their net rating in KenPom is better than one Big 12 school (West Virginia) and one of Baylor’s Power 5 non-conference opponents (Oregon State).
Walter’s 23 points led all scorers. His efficiency and impact on the game (4-9 3PT, 9 rebounds) continue to be a huge driver for the success of the team. It was his three that ended the 15-0 run after Yves Missi (16 points, 8-8 FG, 5 rebounds, 1 steal) gave a great contest at the rim on the other end. The two highly-rated freshman we huge tonight, a signifier of how Scott Drew has transformed the program over the last 20 years.
“We were just hoping year one we could get a team,” Drew laughed. “We had hoped for success, and we had hoped for a culture and a program...but the arena part, they're rare. They don’t happen very often.”
Yet here Baylor is, opening the Paul and Alejandra Foster Pavilion with a packed house, expectations of another season competing for the conference title, and hopes of another run deep into the NCAA Tournament. Those days in the Ferrel just hoping for a bid are over.
Now Baylor has the stage it deserves to show just what kind of team it can be.