Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Midweek Watch: Toughness key for Baylor
By Jason King
Editor’s Note:Click here for Jason King’s prediction on tonight’s Kansas-Baylor matchup, as well as several other top Wednesday games.
To beat Kansas Wednesday night, Baylor forward Quincy Acy knows Baylor must play better than it did in last month’s 18-point loss to the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse.
And to Acy, playing better means playing tougher.
Especially down low.
Acy was asked Tuesday evening if he thought the Bears were “pushed around” in the paint during their first meeting with Kansas.
“I do, I honestly do,” Acy told ESPN.com. “We stopped going inside. They got a couple of blocked shots early and we started settling for jumpers. That’s not like us. I can’t really tell you why we did it, but it happened and that’s uncharacteristic for us.”
Baylor’s frontcourt talent has never been questioned. The Bears have a pair of future first-round NBA draft picks in Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. And Acy, a senior, has been an mainstay in the rotation since his freshman season. Baylor’s toughness and aggression, however, have been an area of concern all season.
Baylor's focus in its rematch with Kansas -- stopping Thomas Robinson, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds in their game in January.
Schools such as BYU and West Virginia controlled the glass against Baylor early in the season before Kansas out-rebounded the Bears 36-21 in Lawrence Jan. 16. All-American Thomas Robinson snared 14 of those boards and also muscled past defenders on his way to 27 points.
Acy -- the one Baylor player who has never been criticized for shying away from physicality -- said he’s done everything he can to make sure he and his teammates are better prepared for tonight’s rematch.
“Me being a senior leader, I can’t let that happen,” Acy said. “If I see someone backing down, I’ve got to do a better job of getting in their face and letting them know that they’re getting outworked. When people say our frontcourt is soft ... I take that to heart, like I’m not doing enough.”
Acy said hearing criticisms about their passive play has helped inspire frontcourt teammates, which also include reserves Cory Jefferson and Anthony Jones.
“The guys have responded well,” he said. “But remember, we’ve got a lot of guys who are pretty much threes (small forwards) trying to play the four and the five. Quincy Miller is a three, Perry is a three-four. But because they’re tall, they have to play down low for us.
“That’s still no excuse. You’ve got to go out there and compete. I make sure I go at them hard every day in practice and raise my level of physicality up.”
Even the most physical player would have a hard time stopping Robinson, who many believe is the frontrunner for the Wooden Award. A 6-foot-9 junior, Robinson averages 18 points and ranks second in the nation in rebounds with 12 per game. As much as they want to beat Robinson, Acy said he and his teammates can’t help but respect him.
“He plays with an aggression, like he has something to prove,” Acy said. “The tragic story about his family plays a part in it. He’s on a mission. He has to provide for his family. I admire that about him. He’s a great dude. I like the passion he plays with.”
Tonight's game is huge for both teams. At 8-2, sixth-ranked Baylor and No. 10 Kansas are a half-game back of Missouri (9-2) in the Big 12 title race. The Jayhawks should be full of motivation following Saturday’s 74-71 loss to Missouri in Columbia.
Kansas -- which is vying for its eighth straight conference championship -- hasn’t lost consecutive games since the 2006 season.
“We always come back with a good attitude and learn from our mistakes,” point guard Tyshawn Taylor said.
Added Robinson: “You still have the bad taste in your mouth from the last game. Going into the (next) game, you want to get that taste out of your mouth.”
That’s probably how Baylor feels about its 92-74 loss to Kansas on Jan. 16.
Baylor played well early but went into a funk after Jones -- Baylor’s leading scorer -- tweaked an ankle injury late in the first half. Jones had been aggressive early but, much like the rest of his teammates, he began settling for jumpers the rest of the way.
Now healthy, Jones has averaged 17.8 points in Baylor’s past four games, all of which were victories.
“This is definitely the most consistent stretch that he’s had,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “If you just go back and look at that Kansas game, once he tweaked the ankle, we were up three or five ... the momentum and everything changed at that point. And as a coach, I probably should have gotten him out, because laterally he couldn’t move nearly as effective on the defensive end, and that affects you in a lot of different areas.”
Tonight’s game is the first of two for Baylor against top-10 opponents, as the Bears travel to Columbia Saturday to take on Missouri. The Tigers defeated Baylor 89-88 on Jan. 21 in Waco. Victories in each of these contests would put the Bears in a great position to win their first conference title since 1945.
“When I came here, I just wanted a chance to help turn this program around and help put us on the map,” Acy said. “Our guys in the past have helped put us on the map, now it’s our job to help keep us there by bringing a Big 12 championship to Waco. That’s on our mind and on our agenda every time we step on the court.”