College Basketball Nation: Quincy Acy

1. UNLV coach Dave Rice said that heralded freshman Anthony Bennett isn’t eligible yet and won’t be in summer school. “He’s been admitted to UNLV, but the NCAA clearinghouse eligibility center is still evaluating him. It’s not unusual. But we’re very optimistic that he’ll be here in late August." The 6-foot-8 Bennett, a native of Ontario, finished his high school at Findlay College Prep in Las Vegas. Bennett is projected to be an impact player for the Mountain West Conference favorites. Bennett would play alongside Mike Moser and give the Rebels one of the top frontcourts in the West. Rice also said assistant coach Stacey Augmon has a standing offer to be an assistant under Mike Dunlap with the Charlotte Bobcats. But he said Augmon is on the road recruiting for UNLV this weekend and hasn’t made a decision.

2. Kentucky coach John Calipari doesn’t usually need too many advantages, but it’s hard not to see him gaining one in the recruitment of No. 1 2015 player Karl Towns Jr., after coaching him on the Dominican Republic national team. Towns plays at St. Joseph High in Metuchen, N.J., but he had a chance to play under three of the Kentucky staffers with Orlando Antigua and Rod Strickland coaching alongside Calipari. Calipari went into the Dominican experience with the goal being to get to the Olympics and increase the basketball culture in the national program. But he might ultimately benefit most with one of the best players available in the coming years.

3. Baylor freshman Isaiah Austin is projected to be the replacement for Perry Jones III and the most impactful freshman in the Big 12 outside of Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. The 7-foot center was a major get for Baylor coach Scott Drew, especially since he was from Arlington. Georgetown, Houston, Texas and Kentucky were all recruiting him. Drew has had a chance to work him out. “He’s really skilled, a really good pick-and-roll player,’’ said Drew. “His size is unbelievable. And he’s gotten stronger.’’ Austin will need to be more than PJ3. He needs to find his inner Quincy Acy and become a force inside.

3-point shot: Coaches Newark-bound

June, 28, 2012
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1. Baylor coach Scott Drew said he is coming to Newark to witness history: three Baylor players taken in the NBA draft. All three -- Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy -- have a legitimate chance to be in the first round. Miller is on the bubble; Acy could yet climb into the back end of the first round. Acy is the best back-to-the-basket player among the three. What makes Drew’s appearance interesting is that none of the Baylor players were invited by the NBA. But Drew said late Wednesday that all three are going to go to Newark, sit in the stands and walk across the stage when their names are called.

2. New Kansas State and former Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he will also be in Newark, at the invitation of Meyers Leonard. This is a great gesture by Leonard, who stuck with Weber through a tough season in Champaign. Leonard had an enigmatic career at Illinois, but Weber was in his corner. Leonard has been complimentary of Weber and his time at Illinois during multiple interviews in Chicago and again Wednesday in New York.

3. St. John’s coach Steve Lavin is planning on being in Newark to witness Moe Harkless get selected somewhere in the first round. North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Kentucky’s John Calipari will also be in the green room -- Williams has three players invited (Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson), Calipari two (Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Washington coach Lorenzo Romar is in Newark as well to support late add Terrence Ross, who isn't expected to get past No. 15 Thursday night. Two coaches who have had a history of not coming to the draft and allowing their players to have the moment to themselves are Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and UConn’s Jim Calhoun. Neither will be in Newark on Thursday.

Editor's note: Kentucky and Louisville are ready for an epic battle in the Final Four. But before they get started, Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf discuss the rivalry, the matchup and the coaches.

Myron Medcalf: Eamonn, I'm ready for this Watercooler now that I have my beads for New Orleans. What an epic Final Four … potentially. Question: Will the state of Kentucky explode Saturday? I mean, it's time for the citizens of that state to stock up on water, canned goods and batteries, right? No telling what will happen after Louisville-Kentucky …

Eamonn Brennan: It will be impossible for the state to explode, because I'm pretty sure literally every Commonwealth citizen with a driver's license will be on Bourbon Street on Saturday. This both terrifies and excites me. One thing's for sure: It's going to be a fantastic atmosphere for a game -- and it provides storylines and a coaching rivalry that couldn't have lined up better if the basketball gods had deigned it themselves. I'm stoked.

EB: The only problem, of course, is whether the game can live up to the lead-in. I have promised myself I won't be disappointed, no matter what. But that might be a lofty promise. I think Louisville has a chance, sure … but it's a slim one.

MM: I agree. The buildup will be nuts. Pitino versus Calipari. In-state rivals. … But at some point, we have to look at this game on paper. I admire Louisville's man-to-man D. Dominating in the NCAA tournament thus far. But this is a special Kentucky team. Better than the team that beat Louisville by seven points in December. Indiana scored 90 points (in the Sweet 16) -- and lost by 12. It seems that everything opponents try, Kentucky can top it. Louisville has a chance. Baylor had a chance. Indiana had a chance. Iowa State had a chance. Not sure that will be enough Saturday. How can Louisville beat Kentucky?

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
Crystal LoGiudice/US PresswireKentucky coach John Calipari is searching for his first NCAA championship.
EB: Well, it should be noted that this Louisville team boasts the best defense Kentucky has faced in the tournament, and maybe all season. It, too, has improved by leaps and bounds since the first meeting, and even since the Big East tournament. Indiana and Baylor and Iowa State all had talent, and Indiana had an elite offense all season, so Tom Crean decided, Hey, we can't stop them, there's no chance, let's get out and run and see if we can make something happen. And it did, but Kentucky was just too good on the other end of the floor. C'est la vie.

EB: That won't be the case for Louisville. I think it has one key trait that makes it a credible threat to the Wildcats: versatile defense. On Thursday, I saw Michigan State stumped by the Cardinals' zone, and by the pressure, and by a general weakening throughout the game as Louisville's conditioning dialed up the heat in the second half. On Saturday, I saw it open up in that same zone, realize it wasn't working, switch to man-to-man (or as my favorite human being Bill Raftery spells it, "mandaman" and totally throw Florida out of whack. It was a really impressive display. That versatility means Rick Pitino will be able to pick his defensive game plan and go with it, knowing his players will at least be capable of executing whatever he comes up with.

EB: So Louisville has that going for it … which is nice.

MM: True. Louisville has been the top defensive team in the field. And the Cardinals have shown a lot of heart. They were baffled by the Gators, and then they adjusted and turned the game. They also have familiarity on their side. Looking at the way the Wildcats have crushed teams in the NCAA tournament, holding Kentucky to 69 points in December seems like a noteworthy accomplishment. But Louisville is playing a team that has recognized its potential and has the swagger to match it. To me, Louisville has to send a message in the post early. That's why Gorgui Dieng is the most important player in this matchup, in my opinion. Can Louisville win without a monster performance from the big man?

EB: No, I think you're right: Dieng is their most important player in this game, and probably in general, simply because he brings an interior defensive presence to match what the Cardinals do to guards out on the perimeter. Without him, Chane Behanan and Jared Swopshire have to man the middle, and as good as Behanan has been (and he will have to be legitimately great against Kentucky), neither of them can replace Dieng's rebounding and shot-blocking. Plus, there's this dude named Anthony Davis, and he's really good at basketball and happens to play the same position as Dieng. Some measure of competitive balance in that matchup is an absolute must.

MM: Exactly. Davis will impact the game. Louisville needs Dieng to offer a similar level of intimidation on the other end of the floor. But you mentioned a guy who's probably No. 2 on Louisville's most important player list. Which Chane Behanan will show up? Quincy Acy had some success against Kentucky. And Behanan is bigger and stronger. He's had moments in the NCAA tournament that made you think, "Wow, kid could be a star." Other times this season, he's looked like a solid freshman. Nothing more. His bulk could be an X factor, too. But it seems we're searching for ways/reasons/theories for Louisville to topple Kentucky. And as much as this is about the guys on the floor, this is also about the personalities, uh, coaches on the sidelines. Who would you rather have leading your team in the Final Four, Calipari or Pitino?

[+] EnlargePitino/Smith
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireWhen it comes to the Final Four, Louisville coach Rick Pitinio has a big edge in experience over Kentucky's John Calipari.
EB: I think you have to go with Pitino, if only because he's been there six times and taken home a title, something Calipari hasn't yet accomplished. To me, it's not a knock on Calipari to say Pitino is a better game coach -- he's a better game coach than just about anyone in the sport, save Coach K. The knocks on Calipari's X's and O's ability are overblown at this point, no question. But Pitino is a Hall of Famer, a master in many ways. I'd take him. But I'll take Kentucky's lineup -- and Calipari's direction of it -- any day. And twice on Saturday.

MM: I'm with you. Calipari is the one facing the bulk of the pressure. Pitino could retire now. A legend. No arguments against it. He's just putting icing on his career at this point. Calipari needs this win, this title. To lose to a Kentucky legend like Pitino at this stage would be a crushing blow to his legacy, especially considering the team that he has right now. Kentucky should win the national title. We will be shocked if the Wildcats lose. One scenario, involving a Kentucky loss, really intrigues me. We just watched North Carolina crumble without Kendall Marshall. Marquis Teague had four turnovers against Baylor. Louisville will apply twice the perimeter pressure. The freshman point guard, who's been questioned all season, has to be more than a distributor in New Orleans. His ballhandling could protect or ruin Kentucky's title hopes. Do you trust Teague to get the job done for the Wildcats?

EB: I think he can handle it, and I think Calipari will spend much of this week figuring out a plan, so that whatever pressure Louisville brings can be equally distributed up the floor. That's easier said than done. I also think Calipari will be eager, as he was for much of the latter part of the season -- when Teague's turnover levels markedly dropped -- to slow the game down and keep it a half-court affair. The Cardinals will be eager to speed it up. Pitino has used his pressure in fits and starts in the tournament thus far; I'd be fascinated to see whether he just decides to go all-out with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith on the ball at 94 feet. A little mid-'90s UK pressure style, perhaps?

MM: I wouldn't put anything past Pitino. So many defensive options. And I agree, Teague has proved himself. But as you've noted, the significance of that position seems to grow with each stage. If Siva and Smith attack early, how will the young guard respond? Key question for this matchup. But it's worth recognizing that Kentucky is a very good defensive unit, too. Louisville finished the Florida win on a 23-8 run. It seems highly unlikely to rally that way against Kentucky. The bottom line is that I'm pumped to see this. Kentucky seems unbeatable, but Louisville's D is so tough. Pitino won't go down without a fight against Calipari, and there's state pride on the line. And we'll be courtside.

EB: Let's invent a time machine so we can go do this right now. We'll just swoop in right before the game. I don't want to wait.

I'm not sure who writes our assigned stuff the next few days … but that's a minor detail. We'll figure it out.

MM: Very minor detail. We have to get to New Orleans. Now.
Two down. Two more to go.

Ohio State and Louisville locked up their trips to the Final Four on Saturday. Now four more teams will look to secure the final two spots this afternoon.

Today’s matchups feature three traditional powerhouse programs that are quite familiar with this stage of the NCAA tournament. The fourth participant, Baylor, is in the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons.

Baylor (3) vs. Kentucky (1), 2:20 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Baylor has the tools, talent and length to make this game interesting.

When the NCAA tournament field was announced, this potential matchup was as intriguing as any in the South Region because Baylor possesses the type of athletes and size to challenge the Wildcats.

Five players with 7-foot wingspans (or greater). A 1-3-1 zone that’s as unique -- with its athletes, talent and size -- as Syracuse’s.

Quincy Acy is more than a beard. The 6-foot-7 senior had 20 points and 15 rebounds in Friday’s win over Xavier in the Sweet 16.

Brady Heslip is 15-for-25 (60 percent) from beyond the arc in the NCAA tournament. And even though he’s been inconsistent in the Big Dance, Perry Jones III (14 points, five rebounds against the Musketeers) is built for this matchup.

The Bears were overlooked and criticized as Missouri and Kansas fought for the Big 12 title, but they're solid on offense (10th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings) and defense (39th in defensive efficiency).

But. But. But, they’re playing Kentucky.

Indiana scored 90 points against the Wildcats on Friday. The Hoosiers hit 52 percent of their shot attempts and only committed eight turnovers. Christian Watford (27 points) and Cody Zeller (20 points) led five double-figure scorers. And Kentucky's Anthony Davis played just 25 minutes after early foul trouble.

And still, the Hoosiers couldn’t pull off the upset.

Kentucky scored 102 points and only turned the ball over six times. The Wildcats always seem to have another gear, another level that their opponents can’t match.

Indiana would have advanced past every other remaining team with its effort Friday. But the Wildcats are different.

Baylor, however, could offer Kentucky its greatest matchup challenges since its nonconference game against North Carolina. The Wildcats, however, won that game, too.

Look for Baylor to go at Davis hard in the first half. They have the bodies and they’ll use them and try to lure Davis into early foul trouble. On defense, the Bears will try to use their length to force difficult shots in the lane. Look for Kentucky to challenge Baylor on both ends of the floor and exploit the Bears’ tendency to play timid early in physical games.

The journey: Baylor defeated South Dakota State, Colorado and Xavier to reach the Elite Eight. Kentucky beat Western Kentucky, Iowa State and Indiana to earn the opportunity to compete in the Final Four.

Monitor his progress: Perry Jones’ length, athleticism and talent make NBA scouts salivate. But the bulk of his career has been defined by potential, not production. This has to be the game in which Jones proves himself. He had just nine points combined in his team’s first two NCAA tournament games. The Bears will need him, however, against Kentucky. If he’s really a lottery pick, if he’s really worthy of that multimillion-dollar contract, then one would think that Jones has to showcase his abilities in this matchup.

Numbers to impress your friends: The Bears have reached the Elite Eight twice. But they didn’t beat a single-digit seed either time. In the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Bears beat Sam Houston State (14-seed), Old Dominion (11-seed) and Saint Mary’s (10-seed). This year, they beat South Dakota State (14-seed), Colorado (11-seed) and Xavier (10-seed). Davis has blocked five or more shots in 17 games this season.

Game’s most critical question: Will Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson’s shot selection disrupt Bears' offense?

The matchup: Acy versus Davis. Zeller drew quick fouls against Davis. Acy will attack Davis early, too.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Kentucky is playing. Seriously. The Wildcats have had a special season thus far. With that talent and swagger, they’re always entertaining. But a Baylor upset isn’t a ridiculous notion.

Kansas (2) vs. North Carolina (1), 5:05 p.m. ET, CBS

Things to know: Nine years ago, Roy Williams left Kansas for North Carolina.

And his stand against his former team in the Elite Eight is actually a secondary storyline in this matchup.

Ohio took North Carolina to overtime Friday in a fascinating Sweet 16 matchup. The Tar Heels didn’t look like the same team without starting point guard Kendall Marshall.

The sophomore suffered a wrist injury that kept him out of that game. And now, we’re all wondering if we’ll see a Willis Reed-like appearance on Sunday.

Marshall told reporters that he wouldn’t have played if the game had been held Saturday. But he did go through practice. Will he play?

Well, Marshall also told reporters that “I could be out there playing” when asked if the Kansas matchup is a possibility.

Instead of chatter about Williams facing Kansas, the main intrigue surrounds Marshall. He’s such a crucial player for the Tar Heels and that was evident as the Tar Heels struggled with Ohio.

The Jayhawks haven’t been flawless, either. They beat both Purdue in the round of 32 and NC State in the Sweet 16 by three points.

But they’re here. And they definitely have the talent to beat the Tar Heels, especially if Marshall can’t go.

Jeff Withey (10 blocks against the Wolfpack) and Thomas Robinson (18 points and 15 rebounds against NC State) have comprised one of the nation’s top frontcourts. Plus, the Jayhawks are fourth on Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings.

But the Tar Heels are still a potent force even without Marshall. Tyler Zeller recorded 20 points and 22 rebounds against Ohio. Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes could carry the Tar Heels to New Orleans. Reggie Bullock played a star role against Ohio with 17 points.

Stilman White, Marshall’s replacement, only scored two points but he played above-average defense.

With or without Marshall, this should be a great game. If he plays, it might be a classic.

Look for Tyshawn Taylor to challenge White early on both ends of the floor. Look for the Tar Heels to minimize White’s role and get the ball to Zeller and Henson early in the shot clock so they can attack and try to draw first-half fouls against Withey and Robinson. This is all assuming Marshall remains sidelined.

The journey: Kansas beat Detroit, Purdue and NC State to reach the Elite Eight. North Carolina defeated Vermont, Creighton and Ohio.

Monitor his progress: White doesn’t have to replace Marshall’s offensive production. He can’t. But his defense will be crucial again, especially with the explosive Taylor running the show for the Jayhawks.

Numbers to impress your friends: Taylor has committed 10 turnovers in the NCAA tournament (three games). Prior to playing 32 minutes against Ohio, White registered double-digit minutes just once during the regular season (11 minutes against Nicholls State Dec. 19).

Game’s most critical question: If Marshall plays, will he be healthy enough to make an impact?

The matchup: Withey versus Zeller. The tournament’s top interior defender (not named Davis) against one of the nation’s top big men.

Don’t touch that remote because ... Zeller has been a beast. Marshall might play. Withey nearly broke an NCAA tournament record for blocked shots against NC State. Robinson is a star. Need any more reasons?

South preview: Baylor vs. Kentucky

March, 24, 2012
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ATLANTA -- A look at Sunday's Elite Eight matchup between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 3 Baylor for the South Regional championship:

The marquee matchup

Anthony Davis vs. Perry Jones III: The last time Davis had to face a player with similar length, North Carolina was at Rupp Arena. Perry Jones III might not be strictly on Davis, but he’ll likely take a turn. The Bears also may use the brute strength of Quincy Acy to get under Davis’ skin at times.

“I always look forward to a challenge and I think Baylor brings a challenge,’’ Davis said. “They attack the rim. They’re very athletic and they can dunk the ball and finish above the rim. I’m looking forward to the challenge and hopefully we will prevail.’’

Kentucky coach John Calipari interrupted Davis and said, “Without fouling. Just don’t foul.’’

“No fouling,’’ Davis said.

Jones didn’t take the bait when asked about an individual matchup.

“I’m looking forward to playing team basketball,’’ Jones said. “I don’t want to feed into that because we haven’t fed into that all year, and we’ve been successful. Last thing I want to do is feed into that, trying to go one-on-one the whole game and not play team basketball, because our team will lose.’’

The impressive stat

Kentucky: The Wildcats scored 102 points and had just six turnovers in their 12-point victory over Indiana in the Sweet 16. Calipari said he was extremely impressed with the Wildcats’ composure. And his trust in Marquis Teague to lead this team has increased daily.

Baylor: Kentucky made 35 of 37 free throws against Indiana. Baylor didn’t create as much contact against Xavier, but the Bears did make their free throws. Baylor was 12-of-14, and if you’re looking for an advantage for Kentucky, check elsewhere. Baylor can make the late-game free throws to win a close game.

The shooters

Brady Heslip, Baylor: Heslip made nine 3s in a win over Colorado. He made of only 1 of 3 in the win over Xavier, but he cannot be left alone. He has made 15 3s in three games so far. If he can make his NCAA tournament average of five, the Bears should be in this game throughout.

Doron Lamb, Kentucky: Lamb can be the difference-maker for the Wildcats. He made his only 3-point attempt against Indiana, but in the previous round against Iowa State, Lamb converted 5 of 7. Lamb has had the ability to break out with huge games throughout his brief career. Like Heslip, he cannot be left alone.

The heart and soul

[+] EnlargeQuincy Acy
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesQuincy Acy, right, has been a dunking machine for Baylor; Perry Jones II has been an enigma.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: No one plays harder for Kentucky. Kidd-Gilchrist continues to show he’s a must on the floor. Calipari loves coaching him and with good reason. He never has to get on him for effort. Kidd-Gilchrist will have a hard time against Baylor's length, and Quincy Miller or Anthony Jones could be guarding him at times. Still, he can power his way to the bucket and create contact and fouls.

Quincy Acy, Baylor: The Bears have tremendous length but don’t always use it to their advantage -- except for Acy. He has no problem getting on the low post and being a force. His dunks, especially off an inbounds against Xavier, were as impressive as you’ll see this season.

The playmakers

Kentucky's Teague vs. Baylor's Pierre Jackson: Both are playing their first year of Division I basketball, but Jackson is a junior college transfer and two years older.

Each runs a steady game and has the trust of his respective coach.

This should be an even matchup. Neither will take too many chances and both can easily create points off turnovers.

The glue guys

Kentucky's Darius Miller and Baylor's Quincy Miller: Darius Miller scored 19 points off the bench against Indiana. He has the most experience of any Kentucky player. He can get to the rim and make 3s. If Kentucky wins, it's probably because Miller had a solid outing. Quincy Miller has tremendous talent as well but doesn’t maximize it often. He can disappear at times and needs to be more assertive. He has a shot in this game to match up with someone like Darius Miller or possibly Terrence Jones and draw even more attention to himself and away from Perry Jones III or Acy.

The mystery

Kentucky's Terrence Jones vs. Baylor's Anthony Jones: Both players have loads of talent but must play within themselves. Kentucky’s Jones can get to the backboard but has to make intelligent decisions on offense. And he has of late. Baylor’s Jones has so much talent, can block shots and handle the ball. But he tends to shoot too much too soon. If he uses his length to his advantage, he can be a major factor in this game.

The coaches

Calipari: He was brought to Kentucky to get to Final Fours and win a title. His teams have advanced to the Elite Eight the past three years and in six of the past seven -- an achievement matched only by Mike Krzyzewski and the late John Wooden, according to Kentucky. The pressure is on Calipari to deliver another Final Four.

Scott Drew, Baylor: Drew has done wonders to resurrect this program and is in his second Elite Eight in three seasons. That alone is remarkable. He is playing with house money here. He has a Final Four team but is not expected to knock off Kentucky. A Final Four berth would certainly elevate Drew to another level among his peers.

Video: Baylor set to battle Kentucky

March, 24, 2012
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Quincy Acy and Scott Drew discuss Sunday's battle between Baylor and Kentucky, and how the Bears can match up with Anthony Davis and the Wildcats.

ATLANTA -- Baylor had every right to be concerned this past offseason.

The Bears went from the Elite Eight to no postseason at all. After losing Perry Jones III for the Big 12 tournament, when he was deemed ineligible for extra benefits, Baylor didn't receive an NIT bid. Didn't even receive a CBI bid.

The Bears were shut out after an Elite Eight appearance. And it hurt.

“We were upset by the fact that we weren’t even invited to the NIT,’’ said Baylor senior forward Anthony Jones. “We didn’t want our season to end the way it did last year.’’

But if Baylor wanted to be taken seriously, the Bears had to follow through with a rebound season in 2011-12 or else there would be serious questions about if this program was a one-hit wonder.

“That was the beginning of this season,’’ said Baylor coach Scott Drew of the postseason shutout. “We were devastated and disappointed. At the same time, that motivated us to all come back and finish what we knew we were capable of.’’

Well, a year later, the Bears are back in the Elite Eight after a 75-70 victory over Xavier, placing them in rare company of programs that will play in a regional final in two of the past three years. BU joins North Carolina, and perhaps Kentucky and Kansas later tonight.

And, for the second time in three seasons, there’s a good chance the Bears could face the potential champion to get to the Final Four.

Two years ago, the Bears lost to eventual champion Duke in the Elite Eight in Houston. This season they’ll likely have to get past Kentucky to get to New Orleans.

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Quincy Acy
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesQuincy Acy scored 20 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had several impressive dunks against Xavier.
“Losing to Duke, and how close we were to winning a championship showed the team that we could compete for a national title,’’ Drew said. “The reality was that we weren’t that far from it.’’

This group is a much more experienced team than even the Elite Eight team in 2010, and certainly more so than last season.

The Bears didn’t have a point guard with as much playmaking and sturdiness as Pierre Jackson. They didn’t have a sharp shooter like Brady Heslip.

And they didn’t have a force like Quincy Acy. He was there, but he wasn’t even close to the player he is now.

Acy was a dominant presence in spurts against Xavier on Friday. The Bears raced out to a 14-2 start and whenever the Bears wanted to re-assert themselves, Acy was there with a ferocious flush.

“Last year was our motivation,’’ said Acy. “We worked harder than ever before in the preseason. We had high motivation. None of us wanted to go out like that. Perry didn’t have a postseason.’’

Jones III made the decision to come back despite having to sit the first five games of this season. Jones III has had his enigmatic moments, but he also has proven to be a tough matchup. A few lobs in the second half were difference-makers for the Bears.

“We started to get stops and threw a different defense at them,’’ Acy said. “We still need to do a better job of holding leads. We still need to work on that.’’

The Bears have the length and athleticism to beat Indiana and certainly to match up with Kentucky.

“This is crazy, to go from sophomore year to the Elite Eight, to junior year no postseason and then back to the Elite Eight with a chance to go to the Final Four, it’s indescribable,’’ Anthony Jones said. “Senior leadership is the difference. Talent-wise, we’re a much better team.

“A lot of people in the country want to see this matchup,’’ Jones said of playing Kentucky. “We can take it up another level.’’

Drew has often been criticized for his coaching, and some rival coaches love to make it seem like he pulled off a get-rich scheme to put Baylor on the map so soon after the scandal that rocked the university.

After another Elite Eight in such a brief period, Drew is starting to quiet all the dissenters.

Few coaches reach one Elite Eight. Now Drew has been to two.

“We’ve been blessed,’’ Drew said. “I’ll tell you how much after Sunday.’’

Rapid Reaction: Baylor 75, Xavier 70

March, 23, 2012
3/23/12
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ATLANTA -- A quick look at Baylor's 75-70 win over Xavier in a Sweet 16 matchup at the Georgia Dome.

Overview: If you had turned off the television or left the Georgia Dome five minutes into the game, you would have thought Baylor should just cut down the nets in New Orleans. The Bears had one of the more impressive starts in the NCAA tournament, getting off to a 14-2 lead to begin the game.

Baylor can look incredibly impressive when it’s out in the open floor. Quincy Acy is a force when he can get to the basket, especially on a dunk. Pierre Jackson runs a fluid game, and Brady Heslip is one of the better complementary role players with his shooting in the field.

But the Bears don’t put teams away. Xavier fought back by going inside to Kenny Frease and was within two scores a number of times in the second half. The Musketeers couldn’t make enough 3s, and that ultimately might have been their undoing.

Baylor survived and advanced to the Elite Eight. Just think about that. Baylor is in its second Elite Eight in three seasons. Baylor. That should speak volumes about how far this program has come under Scott Drew.

Key player: Quincy Acy. The Bears desperately need a physical force. They have tremendous length, but they don’t always use that size and strength to their advantage. Acy was a man among boys at times Friday. His ferocious dunks should be made into freeze-frame posters to hand out at the Georgia Dome. Acy allowed the Bears to settle down when they got a little too wild, and finished with 15 rebounds and 20 points. If Acy continues to play this way, the Bears have a legitimate shot to hang with Kentucky and, perhaps, pull off an upset.

Key stat: The Musketeers’ 3-point shooting was a woeful 3-for-15. Justin Martin made two 3s in the game. If the Musketeers were going to come all the way back from a 14-2 deficit, they were going to need to make 3s. Xavier did a fine job of getting the ball inside to Frease during a 13-0 run late in the first half. But the scoring droughts from Tu Holloway in the second half didn’t help. The Musketeers did get the lead down to six with a little more than a minute left -- on that second 3-pointer by Martin. Holloway hit his first 3-pointer of the game with just less than 20 seconds left to cut Baylor’s lead to 71-68. Heslip then converted four free throws to help the Bears to a 75-70 final.

Turning point: Perry Jones III has been rather quiet throughout the NCAA tournament. But Jackson made sure he was assertive and helped snuff out a mini Xavier run that seemed to be turning momentum. Following an Anthony Jones 3-pointer, Jones III received two lobs -- the first from Jackson -- and hit a face-up jumper, pushing the Bears to a nine-point lead. The Musketeers didn’t go away quietly and had it down to five points. But Jones’ assertiveness definitely helped shift momentum back to the Bears at a critical time.

What’s next: No. 3-seeded Baylor will take on No. 1-seeded Kentucky on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. This will be Baylor’s second Elite Eight in three seasons. The Bears have Final Four potential. The problem is that they’re in Kentucky’s bracket. Put Baylor in the West bracket, and it’s not close which team would be the favorite.

South preview: Xavier vs. Baylor

March, 22, 2012
3/22/12
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ATLANTA -- Perry Jones III doesn’t have to be dominant for Baylor to advance to the Elite Eight.

All he has to do is stay on the floor.

The 6-foot-11 Jones has been much-maligned this season. There are times when he looks like a top-10 NBA draft pick. There are other times when he’s just another lanky, athletic big from Baylor.

But his presence is enough to warrant plenty of attention -- and that can end up meaning buckets inside for Quincy Acy or Anthony Jones, and certainly open 3s for Brady Heslip.

If Jones were playing hockey, he’d get plenty of assists from his passes that lead to the pass for the score.

Jones hasn’t had a breakthrough scoring game since his 31 against Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament. The sophomore's numbers have dipped recently, and he has a combined nine points in the first two NCAA tournament games. But he did have 11 boards in a win over South Dakota State and four in the win over Colorado.

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
Richard Mackson/US PresswirePerry Jones III is showing that he doesn't have to score in bunches to be a factor for Baylor.
His offense wasn’t needed in either game. But he did make the opposing teams pay attention.

“Sometimes my shot is not falling,’’ Jones said Thursday in advance of Friday night’s game against Xavier in the Sweet 16 at the Georgia Dome. “I shy away from keeping shooting the ball. Sometimes it’s not my night. I mean, it doesn’t bother me at all if we’re winning the game. I feel like I help my team in other ways.’’

Xavier will need to find Jones throughout the game Friday night.

“The best thing I can do is try to get the ball to whoever’s hot in the game,’’ Jones said. “If my shot’s not falling, I’d rather go 1-for-7 than 1-for-20-something and then we lose. I just try to do something, just try to rebound, maybe get offensive rebounds, do whatever I can to help my team.’’

Jones may have hurt his NBA draft stock a bit. But not much. You can’t take away his length and athleticism. He still oozes potential. The goal in Atlanta is to ensure he’s on the scouting report for the Musketeers.

And he will be.

“The best thing I can do is move forward and help our team break through for the next couple of games,’’ Jones said.

If Baylor gets a chance to face Kentucky, Jones will need to be a factor against Anthony Davis and friends.

“You’ve got to have balance and that’s the strength of our team,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We have unselfish players. Perry Jones wasn’t making some shots the last two games that he normally does, but to his credit, a lot of times because of the help-side defense, he was making the hockey assist out, which led to baskets.

“Statistically, it doesn’t show up, but at the end of the day, wins and losses are the most important thing. Without the front-line play, we definitely don’t get two wins.’’

Who to watch

Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, Xavier: The Xavier guards were the reason that some of us, notably me, picked the Musketeers to get to the Final Four in November.

The season has been a bit erratic, to say the least. But if this team advances, Holloway and Lyons will still be the reason. Holloway scored 21 points and made four 3s in the win over Lehigh in the third round. Lyons wasn’t as productive, but he still made his presence felt.

Holloway was even more dominant in the win over Notre Dame. He scored 25 points and made an efficient 10 of 15 shots.

Brady Heslip, Baylor: Heslip made nine 3s in the win over Colorado on Saturday. But the Musketeers are certainly going to defend him a bit tighter than the Buffs. Heslip still can deliver a dagger if he’s open. The key will be to not play off him at any point.

“Any guy that can score 27 points in the NCAA tournament without dribbling, he’s a really good player,’’ Holloway said. “He’s a great player. We have a lot of respect for not only him, but the Baylor team.’’

“We have to make him take tough shots, because if he gets open, it’s more than likely going to go down,’’ Lyons said. “You’ve got to be ready to chase him.’’

What to watch

Kenny Frease vs. the Baylor bigs: Frease will have his hands full Friday night. The Xavier center has to stay out of foul trouble. He’ll get some help from forward Andre Walker, but Frease must keep Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones off the offensive backboard.

If the Musketeers are going to have a chance to win, they must get second shots, too.

“We know the guards are going to be able to help us from the top, but we’ve got to take that responsibility on ourselves to try to contain [Jones] as much as possible,’’ Frease said. “He’ll pose a lot of problems for us, but it will depend on how we handle them.’’


Bears say Heslip hardworking, humble

March, 18, 2012
3/18/12
1:39
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Brady Heslip was stocky, not exactly someone who looked like he was going to be an impact player when he arrived at Boston College in the middle of the season two years ago.

And his impact was minimal, since he had been stashed at New Hampton Prep (N.H.) for the fall semester before he joined the Eagles in December. Then the staff was fired. New Boston College coach Steve Donahue didn’t see Heslip’s potential, for whatever reason. Heslip said the two met, he wasn’t in the plans and so he was out.

Former BC associate head coach Pat Duquette, who now has the same title at Northeastern, said he recruited Heslip out of Burlington, Ontario. Duquette said Heslip was “absolutely fearless, but physically more than you see. He had very long arms, which equaled a high release. And he had unusually big hands for a guard his size.’’

Former BC head coach Al Skinner said by phone Saturday night that he liked Heslip’s tough-minded approach.

“The thing about him was that he didn’t hunt shots; he let the game come to him,’’ Skinner said. “He executed well and was patient on the offensive end. He rarely takes a bad shot, and he had tremendous range.’’

[+] EnlargeBrady Heslip
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBrady Heslip hit nine 3-pointers on Saturday to help Baylor earn a school-record 29th win.
There was an AAU connection with his coach to the Baylor staff. He went on a visit to Waco, Texas, and was sold. Baylor coach Scott Drew said Heslip dropped 24 pounds. He was a gym rat. His teammates loved him. But little did they know what they were getting in return.

“I know how hard he’s worked,’’ Baylor’s Quincy Acy said. “When he came in, we knew how good a shooter he was. Every time I went to the gym at night, I would see him in there sometimes twice a day. He works for it. I know whenever he gets hot, he can outshoot anybody.’’

Heslip’s impact Saturday night was epic for a Baylor program that is breaking barriers.

Heslip hit nine 3s for a career-high 27 points in Baylor’s 80-63 victory over Colorado at the Pit, to propel the Bears to their second Sweet 16 appearance in three seasons. The two Sweet 16s are the only ones in the school’s history. Drew is now 5-2 in the NCAA tournament, and the win Saturday gave the Bears a school-record 29 victories.

Heslip’s nine 3s set a single-game NCAA tournament record for the Bears. How much of an impact is Heslip having on a team known for its up-tempo style, tremendous length, and headliners Acy, Perry Jones III and Pierre Jackson?

“Heslip was the difference,’’ Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “He was unconscious tonight.’’

Heslip made six of his 3s in the first half, but the Bears were up only two. His three 3s in the second half helped open up the game. Sure, there were times when Acy and Quincy Miller as well as Anthony Jones were extremely difficult to stop inside. The 17 offensive rebounds kept possessions alive. The 24 defensive rebounds ended plenty of the Buffs’ attempts.

But Heslip busted the game open.

“I’m just feeling great right now, first of all, because we won,’’ Heslip said. “I’m just happy for my seniors.

“As for the shooting, Pierre does a great job of finding me when I’m open and finding me in transition. Acy sets great screens, and it was just one of those nights.’’

Heslip was getting the ball in motion and was stroking it without any hesitation.

“If I’m in rhythm and feeling good shooting, it just makes it even easier,’’ Heslip said.

Baylor was a major disappointment last season, following an Elite Eight appearance and the departure of point guard Tweety Carter with a flameout in the Big 12 tournament. Jones’ ineligibility days before the tourney led to the Bears' missing the rest of the postseason.

The arrival of Jackson from junior college and Heslip’s eligibility changed the backcourt for the Bears and the potential for this squad.

If you followed Baylor early in the season, you saw wins at BYU and Northwestern and over Mississippi State, Saint Mary’s and West Virginia -- the latter three all on neutral courts. The Bears couldn’t beat Missouri or Kansas in the regular season but knocked off the Jayhawks in the Big 12 tournament.

Now Baylor is the first Big 12 team in the Sweet 16. And if Purdue were to upset Kansas on Sunday, the Bears could be the only one. Even if the Jayhawks join them, the Bears are peaking at the right time.

And so is Heslip, an option that makes the Bears that much more formidable in a possible showdown with Kentucky in the South Region at Atlanta with a right to go to the Final Four.

“Brady will be the first to tell you that his teammates really got him open and got him the ball,’’ Drew said. “That humility is what makes our team successful.’’

Rapid Reaction: Baylor 80, Colorado 63

March, 17, 2012
3/17/12
11:23
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Reaction from Baylor's 80-63 win over Colorado.

Overview: Give Colorado plenty of credit, the Buffaloes were scrappy until the final few minutes. But they simply didn’t have the overall talent to hang with Baylor, especially against the power game inside or the 3-point shooting from Brady Heslip and Anthony Jones. The Bears put on quite a display. They have the ability to turn it on as well as any team in the country, outside of Kentucky. If Baylor can play like this it should meet Kentucky in the Elite Eight Sunday in Atlanta.

Turning point: There were many to choose from but I’m more inclined to go with a Quincy Acy spin-move slam that was as impressive as you’ll see. That bucket gave the Bears a 61-58 advantage and set the tone for what would soon be a blowout. That bucket was the precursor to the 3s that Heslip started to drain, which opened up the game.

Key player: Brady Heslip. He made nine 3s, two shy of The Pit record, set by the late Bobby Phills in 1990 when he played for Southern and one shy of a school record. It was also only two shy of the NCAA tournament record set by Loyola Marymount's Jeff Fryer against Michigan in 1990. Heslip missed only three. The Buffs tried to find him but couldn’t contest. It was as good a performance as you’ll see from beyond the 3-point line.

Key stat: The 3s were noteworthy, but just as big a deal was the rebounding margin. The Bears dominated the backboard. Their defensive rebounding severely limited the Buffs' ability to get second-shot opportunities.

Miscellaneous: Baylor went with the yellow highlighter uniforms. The Bears are 3-0 with them. Former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg flew in to represent the conference that he currently works in, the Pac-12. Odd that he was watching two former conference members tussle at The Pit. Baylor fans were chanting "Big 12 rejects" at Colorado when Baylor was up by 12. Not cool. The proper chant came later when the Bears fans were chanting “Big 12.” That was enough.

What’s next: Baylor will play the winner of Lehigh-Xavier on Friday in Atlanta for the right to go to the Elite Eight and possibly take on South top seed Kentucky. The Bears have the makeup to challenge Kentucky better than anyone else in this bracket. The Bears also have a chance to get to the Elite Eight by facing only double-digit seeds if Lehigh were to upset Xavier.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A look at Saturday’s Round of 32 doubleheader at The Pit:

No. 5 seed Vanderbilt (25-10) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (25-9), 6:10 p.m. ET

Vanderbilt can see itself in Wisconsin. The Badgers see the Commodores as a mirror image as well.

These are two programs that have been consistently good under Kevin Stallings and Bo Ryan, yet constantly undervalued in their respective conferences.

They are never the first pick to win the league title. They don’t get the top choice in recruits. Yet they remain in the mix near the top of their conferences, usually have upperclassmen contributing at a high level and have had their share of NBA talent.

Wisconsin has won Big Ten titles. Vanderbilt finally won an SEC one, at least in the tournament. It still counts.

And now they will meet in a 4 vs. 5 East Region game Saturday afternoon with the chance to possibly take on top-seeded Syracuse in Boston next Thursday if the Orange can get past Kansas State -- no easy feat -- Saturday in Pittsburgh.

“I would say there is a lot of truth in all those things, but they’ve probably done it at a better level than we have,’’ Stallings said Friday. “We’ve tried to be a consistent program. And for the most part we’ve been able to accomplish that. They’re usually picked to finish lower in the Big Ten and they end up in the top two or three. They’ve done a great job there.’’

Vandy hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2007. Wisconsin went last year.

“For us the consistency is all about Coach Ryan,’’ said Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor. “Everyone buys into what they’re trying to teach. Everyone loves to say that we’re not athletic or not as athletic as other people. They say the same thing about Vanderbilt in comparison to Kentucky. But guys buy into what is being taught, they want to win and be successful.’’

Taylor will make money somewhere playing ball. Vandy has three players that will be in the NBA in John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli.

“Both programs consistently win a lot of games, but we’ve struggled to get over the hump,’’ Jeffery Taylor said. “It should be really fun [Saturday] since the team that wins has a chance to make a run."

Vandy should win this game. The Commodores, as Ryan noted, have senior starters that dominate the minutes. And the Badgers have overachieved the past month after struggling early in the season and losing a blasphemous three home games. But wins at Ohio State and over Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, coupled with a convincing hammering of Montana in the NCAAs, have the Badgers believing in a Sweet 16 berth.

“I’m so happy with this team, especially what we did in Columbus,’’ Ryan said. “We came together.’’

The Badgers will have to make 3s to advance. But neither team will or should be tight. Vandy simply had to get that first win after losing in the first round three of the past four years.

Taylor said it was nice to sit around Friday and watch other teams in the tournament and know the Commodores were still alive.

“It was so nice to get that first game because it can ruin your season,’’ said Stallings. “You work so hard to get to a point where you’ve accomplished enough to be a 5-seed and get rewarded for it and then it can all go in the trash can if you don’t win the first game.

“There was a lot of pressure and high tension intensity,’’ Stallings said of the Harvard game. “Now we can relax and go play and let it hang out. Now we got past it and we can relax and hopefully just do our best.’’

No. 11 Colorado (24-11) vs. No. 3 Baylor (28-7), 8:40 p.m. ET

The Bears should be Kentucky’s most formidable opponent in the South bracket. Baylor has the length, the athleticism and the overall productivity at every position to match the Wildcats. But that matchup wouldn’t happen until the Elite Eight in Atlanta next Sunday.

But the Bears are playing a team in Colorado that may be as loose as any in the tournament. The Buffs weren’t supposed to be here. No, not just in the third round. They weren’t supposed to be in the NCAAs. But they won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days. And then took down No. 6 seed UNLV on Thursday.

“They will be the most talented team we will have faced,’’ said Colorado coach Tad Boyle. “We’ve got to limit them to one shot. We can’t let them have second or third opportunities. We have to be physical against them. We’ve played against a team like them, but not as long or athletic.’’

But CU hasn’t faced a team as talented as Baylor during this five-game run.

The pressure is all on the Bears to win.

“We’re loose,’’ Boyle said. “We’re confident and have nothing to lose.’’

So much is made of the Bears’ ability to dominate the backboards with Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Deuce Miller and the sturdy yet disruptive play of point guard Pierre Jackson.

But the Bears may have an option that can really squash the Buffs’ ability to play catchup. If guard Brady Heslip is hot from the perimeter and makes 3s in bunches, then the Buffs may not have a chance.

“He makes the floor get spaced and you have to know where he is at all times,’’ Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

Heslip’s appearance as a key member of this team makes it even harder to fathom that Boston College passed on his services. Heslip was recruited by Pat Duquette and played on semester for Al Skinner before he was forced out at BC. New coach Steve Donahue didn’t think Heslip fit into the Eagles' plans, even though he’d be perfect for the Cornell-style offense.

“I didn’t take it personal but that’s how they viewed it and after meeting it made sense to move on,’’ Heslip said.

Heslip said it means the world to him to be in the NCAA tournament for the first time and now with a chance to be on a team that can advance deep.

Drew said Heslip deserves all the credit for losing 24 pounds and toning his body. He has made himself into a player.

And as a result, he can provide the necessary dagger for the Bears in a tight game or when a lead needs to be stretched.


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The NCAA tournament had its epic near-miss earlier Thursday when 16-seed UNC Asheville couldn’t close out Syracuse.

The controversy about the officiating contributed to it being the most discussed game of the day.

VCU became a storyline yet again with a final-possessions win over Wichita State, remaining relevant for a second year in a row.

There were plenty of impressive performances, notably Gonzaga’s pummeling of West Virginia in Pittsburgh. But for the most part the chalk held.

Except at the end of the night.

The Pac-12 has been rightfully beaten down throughout the season. Washington, the regular-season champ, didn’t even get a bid. Cal didn’t put up much of a fight against a middling South Florida in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, adding even more insult to the league’s off-year.

But if an underdog or Cinderella can still come from a BCS league (in football terminology), then Colorado fits the description.

This simply shouldn’t be happening. But it is.

The Buffs, picked to finish 11th in the league to start the season, won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days and have moved into the third round of the NCAAs after holding on to beat No. 6 seed UNLV 68-60 Thursday night at the Pit.

Maybe even more surprising than the score and the Buffs moving on is how much they have become a hoops haven.

The Colorado crowd was by far the most boisterous of any of the eight teams in attendance. The raw euphoria from fans young and old had the security at the Pit sprinting out in anticipation that Buffs backers might actually storm the court. A number of fans, who were a part of an impressive CU contingent of about 2,500, had started to move down to the lower level, gathering right above the band in what looked like a precursor to a storm.

But this is the NCAA tournament, where storming is as forbidden as taking a Coke can onto the floor without an approved plastic cup cover.

[+] EnlargeAskia Booker
AP Photo/Matt YorkGuard Askia Booker's 16 points off the bench led five Colorado players in double figures.
“I feel like our guys are playing well, playing with a lot of confidence and we’re just going to try to keep it rolling,’’ said Colorado’s Andre Roberson. “I just feel like we can take down Baylor coming up.’’

Umm, what?

Baylor is by far the most athletic, longest, deepest and talented team Colorado will have faced all season. No one in the Pac-12 would have come close.

But why would Colorado feel like anything is impossible? The Buffs actually used Connecticut’s five-games-in-five-days Big East tournament title run of a year ago as motivation prior to the Pac-12 tournament.

Victories over Utah, Oregon, Cal and Arizona just continued the improbable roll.

UNLV was next, and while the Runnin’ Rebels had moments of confusion at times in the final month of the season, they surely would outrebound and run past CU, right?

Not quite. CU outrebounded the Rebels by 13.

“I did think that they played with a greater sense of urgency than we did,’’ said UNLV coach Dave Rice.

The rarity of Colorado in this position was quickly pointed out by the CU administration on a postgame release. The Buffs had never won five games in a row March. That’s never — as in has never happened. The last time the Buffs won a game in the NCAA tournament, Chauncey Billups was the point guard and it was 1997.

“I don’t think I was born yet,’’ said Roberson. “No, I know I was. I don’t know.’’

“I was 3,’’ CU’s Askia Booker said. “I was 3.’’

The Buffs have a collection of gritty guys who would pale in comparison to Baylor’s length — and yet to dismiss them would be a major error in judgment. Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie can block shots with the Baylor bigs Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III. Shooters like Austin Dufault, Carlon Brown and Booker can all match Brady Heslip on 3s. And the Buffs can actually win despite making turnovers (23 Thursday).

“We believe in ourselves,’’ Roberson said. “We believe in everything coach [Tad] Boyle tells us. We execute our game plan. We try to do our best. Defense and rebounding, that’s our motto. Every time we do that, we win games.’’

Boyle had the Buffs on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament last year in the final year of the Big 12. It was Boyle’s first season with Colorado. And then the team lost its two best players in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.

Now, five games into this postseason, Boyle’s record is a combined 10-2 in playoff basketball at CU after a 3-1 NIT record a year ago.

“I don’t see why it can’t continue,’’ Boyle said. “It’s going to get harder as we go, we know that. But I believe in this team. They believe in themselves, and as long as you do that this time of year, you’ve got a shot.’’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Numerous times since becoming a basketball player, Baylor’s Perry Jones has received cheers after a thunderous dunk or a shot to win a game.

But he’s never heard applause on an airplane.

Or at least he hadn’t until this week.

As soon as Jones set foot on the team charter Tuesday, his Baylor teammates sprung from their seats and gave him a standing ovation. The occasion? Jones, a 6-foot-11 sophomore, was officially on his way to his first Big 12 tournament after being declared ineligible for the event a year ago.

His debut was a memorable one, as Jones finished with a career-high 31 points and 11 rebounds in Baylor’s 82-74 victory over Kansas State on Thursday.

“Our monster came to play today,” Baylor forward Quincy Acy said.

The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Jones, who is often criticized for playing “soft” and passive. Even though he’s still projected as a top-10 pick in this summer’s NBA draft, Jones is the first to admit that he hasn’t always performed up to his potential during the past few months.

That all changed Thursday.

Dunks on putbacks, 3-pointers, baseline jumpers, reverse layups in traffic ... Jones scored in just about every way imaginable in what was arguably the best performance of his career. Jones’ effort was even more impressive considering it came against one of the Big 12‘s most physical teams.

“I opened up my whole arsenal,” said Jones, who had 21 points at intermission. “I guess I was just in a zone. My teammates told me to go out there and do what I know I can do.”

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelCriticized for being passive at times, Baylor's Perry Jones punished K-State on Thursday.
Jones’ success was uplifting to the Bears, who have watched all season as Jones endured jabs on the Internet and from the media about his less-than-assertive play. Jones also took a hit last season when he was suspended for the Big 12 tournament after the NCAA deemed that his family had received impermissible benefits from an AAU coach while Jones was in high school.

Only recently, in a story on ESPN.com, did Jones say that the “benefit” was a small loan to help make a mortgage payment so he and his family could avoid losing their house and becoming homeless, a scenario they had already encountered several times throughout his childhood.

“To see him smiling out there on the court was a big change,” guard A.J. Walton said. “He’s getting back to being the real Perry Jones.”

Baylor coach Scott Drew agreed.

“Throughout the year he’s received a lot of negativity,” said Drew, whose team improved to 26-5. “We’ve all shared it with him. Everybody loves Perry.”

Except for maybe the Wildcats, who trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half before a flurry of late 3-pointers made the game seem closer than it truly was. Baylor shot 57 percent and outrebounded K-State 32-26.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin called the Bears a “Final Four-contending team.” And forward Jordan Henriquez -- who had 22 points, 14 boards and four blocks -- was highly complimentary of Jones.

“He’s a good player,” Henriquez said. “They all said he’s a pro, and he came out tonight and played like it from the 40-minute mark.”

The question now is whether Jones and his teammates can turn in another banner effort in Friday’s semifinal against regular-season champion Kansas. The Jayhawks own two victories over the Bears by an average of 16 points.

“We can’t lay down,” Acy said. “If we get punched in the face we’ve got to get back up and keep fighting.”

Jones reminded everyone on Thursday that he was more than capable of doing just that. If he plays that way Friday -- and during the NCAA tournament -- the potential is limitless for Baylor.

“He just needs to keep thinking positive things,” point guard Pierre Jackson said. “I think he’s the best player in the nation. I say it every day. He’s the best player in the nation. He showed that today.”

Video: Quincy Acy lifts Baylor over Texas

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
1:29
AM ET

ESPN's Holly Rowe talks with Quincy Acy after Baylor's 77-72 win over Texas.

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