Dallas Colleges: Scott Drew
But whether the Big 12 was really deserving of its top-dog status will largely be determined by the two games Sunday in San Antonio.
“We know that postseason is important for every conference,” Bears coach Scott Drew said. “Statistically, we were the No. 1 conference in the country. But now postseason it’s a new season.”
It’s also an opportunity for the Big 12 to confirm its distinction in two high-profile matchups. Especially following a lackluster start to the tournament elsewhere for the conference.
As a 5 seed, Oklahoma was knocked off by North Dakota State in overtime. Oklahoma State and Kansas State both fell in their 8-9 seed games to Gonzaga and Kentucky, respectively. Even regular-season champ Kansas struggled against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky, and even trailed with less than nine minutes to go in the second half.
But in San Antonio, the Big 12’s two hottest teams delivered two impressive performances in the second round.
The Bears, who had won six in a row before falling to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament championship game, dominated No. 11 seed Nebraska from the opening tip. Baylor held the Cornhuskers to just 23 percent shooting in the first half to build a double-digit lead, then cruised to a comfortable 74-60 victory.
“We’re really confident right now,” Baylor point guard Kenny Chery said. “All these guys in the locker room, no matter what we’ve been through this year, we feel like we’re as good as any team in the country. We feel like we can play with anybody.”
The Cyclones are feeling the same way, having reeled off five wins in a row.
While other high seeds struggled in their first tournament games across the country, Iowa State continued its hot shooting. In a 93-75 smoking of North Carolina Central, the Cyclones knocked down almost 64 percent of their field goals and 53 percent of their 3-pointers.
The win, however, came at a price, as Georges Niang suffered a tournament-ending foot fracture during the second half.
““Obviously, that’s a very big loss for our team with the way that we use him and utilize his skill set to take advantage of a lot of mismatches,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Not only that, but just his enthusiasm and the way he helps keep guys together and fight through adversity -- it’s a tremendous loss for this basketball team.”
It was a grind to get through (the Big 12), but it helps prepare you for the moment that we're in for now. Our conference all year has been great.” -- Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg
But even without Niang, the Cyclones still retain enough firepower, including Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and All-Big 12 point guard DeAndre Kane, to slip past the Tar Heels and make a deep run in the East Region.
“This is still a confident group,” Hoiberg said. “And we’re playing a very good stretch of basketball right now.”
To keep the stretch going against the Tar Heels, the Cyclones will have to figure out how they’ll replace one of their top players in less than 48 hours. Hoiberg said Saturday he wasn’t sure yet without Niang -- who at 6-foot-7 with range could play inside and outside -- whether he’d go small or go big. Either way, the Cyclones will need sophomore guard Naz Long, freshman guard Matt Thomas and junior forward Daniel Edozie to all play bigger roles Sunday, especially helping out on the glass against North Carolina, which secured 21 offensive rebounds to hold off Providence in the second round.
“People asked me how are you going to replace him? Who are you going to replace him with?” Hoiberg said. “And you can't just do it with one guy. It's going to be by committee. And everybody's got to be ready to go out there and contribute.”
Baylor, meanwhile, will need a dogged team effort defensively to contain McDermott, who scored 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Creighton’s second-round win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Bears, and their rangy zone defense, frustrated Nebraska. But nobody lately has been able to slow McDermott, who has scored at least 22 points in his last 14 games.
“He can score in multiple ways, whether it be shooting or getting to the basket,” Baylor forward Royce O’Neale said. “So we just have to be prepared for it.”
But both Big 12 coaches said the Big 12 season has prepared their players for such a pair of tough third-round matchups.
“It was a grind to get through, but it helps prepare you for the moment that we’re in for now,” Hoiberg said. “Our conference all year has been great.”
By punching tickets to the Sweet Sixteen, the Bears and Cyclones would validate just that.
They don't have much to show for the talent they possess.
But that’s the beauty of the Big 12 this season. The Bears are 14-8 and second-to-last in the conference standings, but opportunities are still plentiful in the final month of the regular season.
Baylor, losers of six of its past seven games, plays at Oklahoma on Saturday in yet another chance to redirect its season.
The Sooners, fresh off an exhausting trip to West Virginia, which included an overtime loss to the Mountaineers, already beat Baylor by two in Waco three weeks ago.
"We lost by two to Oklahoma and were 10-of-20 from the free throw line,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We've had close games but we've got to make our free throws.''
Only two of Baylor’s six losses during this stretch -- Oklahoma (66-64) and West Virginia (66-64) -- were within a possession. Surprisingly, the Bears’ one win was on the road at then-No. 8 Oklahoma State. The Bears also have an early December win over then-No. 6 Kentucky on their resume.
Point guard Kenny Chery was hurt (foot) for the Oklahoma State win and returned for Tuesday’s loss against Kansas, but played 11 largely ineffective minutes.
"Kenny hasn't been able to practice since the injury,'' Drew said. "We'll try to get him the next few days.''
The Bears are unpredictable whether they’re playing at home or on the road. They've got nine games left. They have the talent to be able to knock off a team like Oklahoma with players like Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, Rico Gathers and a three-man rotation on the perimeter in Brady Heslip, Chery and Gary Franklin.
"Every game is extremely important because we have not left much margin for error,'' Drew said.
The Bears haven't shot well in the Big 12, at least not like they did in the nonconference. Their defense hasn't been the same, either.
Baylor might pass for an NCAA team in the airport, but if it doesn’t get out of its current slump, the only traveling it will be doing in March will be for the NIT.
2. The UMass-Lowell job is open after Greg Herenda took the head coaching position at Fairleigh Dickinson. The Riverhawks are joining the America East next season but have a four-year waiting period to become eligible for postseason. North Dakota State is one of the best models for how to make this transition when Tim Miles and Saul Phillips set up the Bison to make the NCAAs in their first eligible year in 2009. Bryant University handled a similar transition, and while the Bulldogs didn't make the NCAAs in their first eligible year, Bryant spent a good portion of the 2012-13 season atop the NEC and ended up earning a berth in the CBI. The Riverhawks now have to follow a similar path and to do so have a shot to look at area schools for coaching talent. Former Boston College coach Al Skinner, his former assistant and current Northeastern assistant Pat Duquette and current Emerson head coach Jim O'Brien, who was the head coach at BC prior to Skinner, all could be in the mix for this position, according to sources. This is hardly a headline position, but everyone jumping up from Division II to I wants to make a splash. The America East grabbed UMass-Lowell to replace Boston University in the hope it can penetrate the Boston market, making it even more imperative to win the new conference with a coach that has local ties.
3. Ray McCallum Jr. announced his decision to declare for the NBA draft last week but it got lost amid other headline names making the tough call to stay or go. But don't dismiss the Detroit guard as an afterthought. McCallum Jr. could have easily gone to UCLA but chose to play for his father Ray at Detroit. McCallum will be an intriguing prospect to monitor throughout the team workouts and in Chicago over the next two months. Each decision is personal and that's why to guess what direction a player would go in this process is extremely difficult. McCallum chose to leave his dad's team and head to the NBA. Doug McDermott decided to stay and play for his dad at Creighton for one more year. McCallum, though, could very well end up being a higher pick in a draft that needs quality ball handlers.
The Bears became the first Big 12 team to win the NIT, soundly defeating the Iowa Hawkeyes 74-54 on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
"I’m proud of these guys," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Really proud of their heart and determination, and they’ll always be remembered. Whenever you make history -- you don’t get a lot of chances to do that."
Baylor led 27-22 at halftime, and Iowa cut the deficit to 28-27 early in the second half. But the game turned into a rout from there. Pierre Jackson, the Bears' leading scorer (19.9 PPG), heated up, scoring 13 of his 17 points after intermission. He also collected 10 assists, giving him a fourth consecutive double-double, and was named the tournament's most outstanding player.
"In the second half, they were getting some good screens for me to get to the paint," Jackson said, "and I got to the right spots and knocked down shots."
"They’re a terrific offensive team," said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. "They had us spread out. They were moving the ball, and they’ve got a lot of weapons, and Jackson is tremendous."
Iowa, on the other hand, had a nightmarish game on offense. The Hawkeyes shot just 18-for-69 (26.4 percent) from the field and 5-for-24 (20.8 percent) from beyond the arc. They missed open looks on the perimeter and several chippies around the rim, clearly bothered by the presence of 7-foot-1 center Isaiah Austin (15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocks) and 6-foot-9 forward Cory Jefferson (23 points, 7 rebounds).
"[It] seemed like we just kept missing easy shots," McCaffery said. "The stat that jumps out at me is we had 20 offensive rebounds against this team. That’s effort. That’s special. That should have equated to more success offensively."
Baylor (23-14) was ranked No. 19 in the country in the preseason, so ending up in the NIT was a disappointment. But the Bears certainly finished the season strong.
"You look at most teams in the NIT, they probably lost a lot of close games, and with our team, we lost some close games," Drew said. "And the common denominator was when we shot over 70 percent from the free throw line, we won, and when we shot in the 50s and 60s, we lost. That’s with a young front line."
Drew will lose his starting backcourt of Jackson and A.J. Walton, both seniors. But if the talented post players return, Baylor will be dangerous next season.
Iowa (25-13) had its NCAA tournament bubble burst Selection Sunday but gained valuable experience by playing five more games. Senior swingman Eric May departs, but everyone else should be back, and the Hawkeyes should go dancing next season, for the first time since 2006.
"There’s just no substitute for experience," McCaffery said. "Come to Madison Square Garden, the greatest venue in sports, and play twice against two really good teams, win one, lose one, learn from that -- it can only make us better."
1. Kansas. The Jayhawks have won 100 of their past 101 games at Allen Fieldhouse. The only home game they've lost there in the last six-plus years came against Texas in 2011, the morning after forward Thomas Robinson's mother passed away unexpectedly. KU plays at Texas Tech on Saturday before hosting Baylor on Monday. McLemore averages a team-high 16.9 points.
2. Iowa State. It's rare that a team moves up in the polls after a loss, but the poise the Cyclones displayed in Wednesday's setback against KU was remarkable considering the opponent and venue. This team has a lot of nice pieces and will continue to improve as long as Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious plays at a high level. Fred Hoiberg is one of the country's more underrated coaches.
3. Baylor. The Bears opened Big 12 play with an overtime win against Texas and looked scary good in Tuesday's road-thumping of Texas Tech. Baylor won by 34 points but probably could've beaten the Red Raiders by 60. Scott Drew, who returns to the bench this weekend after serving a two-game suspension, has already led his team to a victory at Kentucky's Rupp Arena. Winning against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday will be even tougher.
4. Kansas State. Rodney McGruder looked like the best player in the league while scoring 26 points in the second half of Saturday's home victory against then-No. 22 Oklahoma State. Winnable road games against West Virginia (Saturday) and TCU (Wednesday) are up next. Reserve forward Nino Williams is averaging 16.5 points off the bench in his past two games.
5. Oklahoma State. The Cowboys snapped a two-game losing streak with an 18-point home win over TCU on Wednesday. OSU needs to get more production out of wing Le'Bryan Nash. The potential first-round NBA draft pick ranks third on the team in scoring with 13.7 points per game. But he's shooting just 42.8 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from 3-point range.
6. Oklahoma. The Sooners are the Big 12's most improved team. Lon Kruger's squad opened conference play with a road victory at West Virginia. Sure, the Mountaineers are struggling. But winning in Morgantown isn't easy no matter what. A victory in Saturday's Bedlam game against Oklahoma State in Norman would give the Sooners a huge jolt of momentum and generate legitimate NCAA tournament buzz.
7. West Virginia. Bob Huggins' squad showed a ton of resolve by battling back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime against Texas in Austin on Wednesday. WVU went on to win 57-53 for its first league victory as a member of the Big 12. As poorly as things have gone for the Mountaineers thus far, a home win over K-State on Saturday could alter the course of their season. Huggins spent a year as KSU's head coach before taking over at WVU in 2007.
8. Texas. After two consecutive overtime losses to open Big 12 play, it's tough to envision the Longhorns (8-7, 0-2) extending their streak of 14 straight NCAA tournament berths. Heck, at this point, they might not even make the NIT. Texas' next three games are: on the road against Iowa State, at home against Kansas and on the road against Oklahoma. The Longhorns will be underdogs in each.
9. Texas Tech. Longtime followers of the Big 12 have opined that TCU might be the worst team in the history of the conference -- and that Texas Tech might be the second-worst. The Red Raiders weren't even close to being competitive in Tuesday's 34-point loss to Baylor. Whoever takes over this program in the spring will have a massive rebuilding job on his hands.
10. TCU. No one will be surprised if the injury-riddled Horned Frogs finish 0-18 in Big 12 play. Their best chance for a victory game in last week's league opener against Texas Tech, but TCU lost at home by nine points. Saturday's road tilt at Baylor will be followed by back-to-back home games against Kansas State and Iowa State.
IOWA STATE HEAD COACH FRED HOIBERG
You’ve got the two elite shot-blockers in the country in [Jeff] Withey and Anthony Davis. The big thing for Kansas is their transition game. They’re so good at getting out and running. Against Kentucky, if you’re setting up in the half court every time down the floor, you’re going to be grinding it out against that length and athleticism. It’s going to be very difficult to score. From Kansas’ standpoint, the more they attack, they better off they’ll be. They’ve got players capable of doing that with [Tyshawn] Taylor and [Elijah] Johnson spacing the floor. I really think they need to attack before Kentucky gets a chance to set up in that half-court defense where they’re so effective. For Kentucky, Anthony Davis can do so many things. He’s expanded his game as the season has gone on. You have to be so selective on when you try to take it at him, because when he blocks a shot, it usually leads to a layup on the other end.
When Kentucky is in their transition game, you’re not going to stop them, so the other thing Kansas has to do a good job of is taking care of the basketball. They’ve got to limit their turnovers and get up quality shots, and try to get Kentucky into a half-court game going back the other way, which is pretty tough to do. When Kentucky is hitting shots, they’re almost unbeatable. It starts with [Marquis] Teague. If he can get that thing out there and beat everyone in transition, everyone collapses in. That’s how they get all those lobs. If you can take away those highlight plays by Kentucky, that hurts their mojo a little bit. But they’re so fast and explosive, that’s very difficult to do.
With Kansas, Bill [Self] has done as good of a coaching job as anyone in the country this year. You look at what they lost, with the Morris twins and [Brady] Morningstar and [Tyrel] Reed ... Bill still found a way to build his new guys up and to get them to play with so much confidence. That’s a testament to Bill and his staff. Bill is as good as there is in this business. It’s fun to compete against him, and it’s great to have him in our league. Tyshawn is the key to their team. He’s what makes them go. He gets it up and down the floor so quickly. You’ve got to do your best to stay in front of him. They’re using a lot of pick-and-roll in their offense. Tyshawn has handled that very well and shown he can make the right decisions. They're so precise in their offense. I think they’ve got a shot. Don’t ever count out Bill Self. Every time they look like they're down and out, they find a way to come back. If Kentucky is hitting their shots, there just isn’t much you can do. But if they’re having an off night, and Kansas is hitting their shots, they have a very good chance to win.
IOWA STATE GUARD SCOTT CHRISTOPHERSON
[The Wildcats] have great length at pretty much every position. Even if they don’t call out a screen quick enough, they can just switch everything because they [have] such a great help side on their defense. They can cover up minor mistakes. When we played them, [Darius] Miller played really well. Teague played really well. He hit some outside shots. When those two and [Doron] Lamb are hitting their outside shots -- combined with their inside game -- they’re pretty much impossible to stop. On defense, they have guys that are good perimeter defenders, but more than anything, even if you are able to get by them, they have such good length, even on the help side. ... You’re just not used to playing against guys like Anthony Davis and [Michael Kidd-]Gilchrist and Jones -- guys that can just come from the weak side out of nowhere and get your shots. We shot the ball very poorly from 3 because we had never seen length like that. At times you’re actually able to get into the paint on them. I’m not saying they’re not good perimeter defenders, because they are. But it’s not like they’re impossible to get by.
The problem is that you have to expend so much energy getting by them, and then you’ve got Anthony Davis waiting for you at the rim -- it poses a lot of problems. If you’ve got a guy on the low block that can really be physical, it will certainly help. Kansas will be able to utilize Thomas Robinson, because he’s physical and very strong. I’m sure Kansas is hoping he’ll be able to get some easy baskets inside and maybe draw some fouls on Kentucky’s big guys. The biggest thing is just getting the ball moved from one side of the court to the other. If you come down and just have it sit on one side and try to break Kentucky down that way, with their length, you’re not going to be very successful. I would try to drive the ball into the paint and kick it out as many times as I could. But I’d get as many paint touches as I could and get the defense distorted as much as possible. And if you can get out in transition and get some easy buckets, that will help your confidence, too. Kansas has always been very good in transition.
With Kansas, we were able to do a good job of mixing up our post defenses on Robinson. Defensively, we played about as well as anyone did against them in both of our games. You’re going to have to rebound and be physical with them. Defensively they’re always in position. They’re very well-coached, very disciplined. You just have to be very sharp and solid. You can’t try to be a hero against them. You have to make simple plays and play very hard. I think Kentucky’s length makes them a little bit better defensively, just because they’ve got guys like Kidd-Gilchrist that can guard the 4-man or the point guard. But Kansas, year-in-and-year-out, is the best team in the Big 12 defensively. Withey has come a really long way. He does a good job of doing what he does. He blocks shots, runs the court, rebounds, finishes around the rim. To me, the difference in the game is going to be who wins between Doron Lamb and Darius Miller, and Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. And Tyshawn Taylor has to outplay Teague. Johnson is a really good defender. And when he’s able to stretch the defense with his perimeter shot, it does a lot of things for Kansas. When you have to close out long on him, it gives Robinson so much more room to work on the inside.
BAYLOR HEAD COACH SCOTT DREW
You have to score in transition if you want to have any shot of beating Kentucky. You can’t just hope to score in the half court against them. They’re so good defensively. You have to get easy ones when you can. When you can’t, you really have to make them work on the defensive end. Kansas will do that. But you also have to get some easy ones, and Kansas has always done a great job of pushing it. If Kansas is scoring and not turning it over, that means Kentucky isn’t getting out and running. And if Kentucky isn’t getting out and running, Kansas has a chance. Sometimes people make the mistake of saying, ‘OK, we want to slow it down and play a half-court game against Kentucky.’ That means they never push it and get easy buckets. I don’t know if you can score enough to beat them if you slow it down.
Juniors and seniors don’t want to go home. Kansas is very good, but out of almost all of the good tournament teams, they’ve had the most experience. They start all juniors and seniors, and juniors like Releford and Withey are four-year guys. They’re starting three fourth-year guys and two true juniors. That’s a veteran group. The more experienced at something, the better you are at what you do. They’ve been there, done that. It may mean more to them because they’ve been there three or four years. So they have the experience, but they also have that mental toughness. Winning a national championship may mean more to them than it does a freshman.
When Withey is on, Kansas goes to another level. You know what you’re going to get night in and night out from Tyshawn and Thomas. But if you had Withey knocking down shots and rebounding and scoring, they’re on another level. In their two wins against us, he was the difference. Tyshawn Taylor is probably the main key, though. If you keep Tyshawn from getting it in the paint, and if you can keep him from creating for others ... you can guard Thomas Robinson if you don’t give him angles and just play solidly behind him. And Withey, if he doesn’t catch it deep, I don’t know how bad he’s going to hurt you. But the reason Robinson is able to get angles, and the reason Withey is able to catch it deep is because of Tyshawn’s ability to get into the paint. He’s as good with his first step and at blowing by defenders as any point guard in the country.
BAYLOR GUARD BRADY HESLIP
[Kentucky's] athleticism can be overwhelming, even to us. They’ve got five guys that can handle the ball. Their outlet passes are so impressive. One second after they rebound, the ball is at half court. They get out in transition so quick. They can all handle it. It makes things easy for them. Defensively, Anthony Davis gets a lot of attention for blocking shots, but the guys on the perimeter really pressure the ball. I was watching yesterday, and Louisville would dribble around for 15 or 20 seconds because they were having so much trouble getting it into the paint and getting Kentucky in foul trouble.
Teague can guard. He’s fast. Tyshawn Taylor is probably a little stronger than him. Lamb is strong. Kidd-Gilchrist can defend 1 through 4. Jones is so physical, and then Davis has that great length. You’ve got to do a good job of answering their runs and hope to get some easy baskets. When you try to slow it down, on defense they can really stop you. They forced us into taking bad shots, and they forced us into turnovers. Those result in the first pass of their transition offense. They run the floor and convert it, and get to the free throw line.
Kansas is an amazing team with all of their pieces. They’ve got strong guys that are athletic and physical. They play well and they defend. Kentucky, statistically, is the best defensive team. But Kansas on defense is ridiculous. They rotate like a machine. They’ve got Withey blocking shots. Releford is a great defender, and so are Taylor and Johnson. Those guys are relentless on defense, and they can get out and run, too. It should be an up-and-down game. Taylor is the key for them. At this time of year, you’ve got to have a great point guard to still be playing. He does a great job of scoring and making things happen, because he’s so athletic. Once he gets going, that’s a tough freight train to stop. He does a great job of getting into the paint. If he gets into the paint against Kentucky and guys help out, he can throw lobs to Robinson and Withey. I think it could be a good game. Kansas is too good of a team and Bill Self is too good of a coach to let it get out of hand. It’ll be a close game.
ATLANTA -- Anthony Davis finally left the game with 33 seconds remaining, and only because he had blood on his lip.
Kentucky was ahead of Baylor, 82-68, at the time.
Davis didn’t want to leave the court. And why would he? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something that must have been as enjoyable to play as it was to watch?
Davis had suffered a left knee contusion in a collision with Baylor’s Perry Jones III with 18:28 left in the second half and the Wildcats up 44-22. Davis was treated and sent back in, left again, then went back in because he couldn’t get enough of this game.
“The knee is doing fine,’’ said Davis after the Wildcats’ South Regional-clinching 82-70 victory over Baylor on Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.
“I just bumped knees with Perry Jones, and it started hurting real bad. But I knew my team needed me to play. I wasn’t going to sit out, especially with a trip to the Final Four, and all of us want to go to the Final Four. So I knew I needed to come in the game and help my team out, so I decided to come in.’’
Davis finished with 18 points, 6 blocks and 11 boards. And the consensus national player of the year was hardly alone in another stellar performance.
This effort by the Wildcats was their best this season -- and that’s quite a statement, considering they lost only one regular-season game to Indiana in December and one to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament championship.
If you watched the way Kentucky flipped a 10-5 deficit into a 20-point lead in a matter of minutes, then you know.
Baylor coach Scott Drew had no clue the Wildcats could turn it on like that in a flash.
“I had no idea they were this good,’’ Drew said as he walked out of the postgame news conference.
“We made one substitution, called a timeout and addressed within the team and said to each other, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do it with defense, we’ve got to guard and let’s put this thing away and be the aggressor and attack. Let’s go.’ It didn’t look good to start the game, did it?’’
Well, Baylor was the aggressor for a few possessions.
Then the Bears committed turnovers on successive possessions and it was on. Boy, was it on.
“I’d say we were just aggressive,’’ said Kentucky’s Terrence Jones. “I just think we got real aggressive on offense and defense and just mentally locked down on defense. It just led to fast breaks on offense.’’
“In that first half, we played flying up and down the court,’’ Calipari said. “If it’s not there, we run the offense. If you go zone, we’re driving that ball. We’re not settling.
“Defensively, we’re swarming and blocking shots,’’ Calipari said.
Kentucky did have some foul trouble, with Kidd-Gilchrist ultimately fouling out and Davis playing with four.
But who would quibble over officiating Sunday?
The unselfishness of this squad shouldn’t be lost on anyone. Kentucky’s two previous teams weren’t this giving with each other. And both of them reached the Elite Eight, with last season’s team losing in the national semifinal. This one should be able to take the next step.
“We’ve got seven players on this team that average 25 points a game in high school and all seven led us in scoring this year [at some point],’’ Calipari said. “Anthony Davis, would you say he’s pretty good? He’s our fifth-leading shot-taker. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is our fourth. When Kyle Wiltjer’s in the game, they love it and they throw him the ball. They’re fine with that. They’re excited when he makes it. They figured it out that as a young team they had to do it together and they would all benefit.’’
Calipari said he doesn’t make any promises in recruiting. He won’t say how many starts you’ll get or shots you’ll take.
“If you want to shoot 30 times a game, you’re not coming here,’’ Calipari said. “If you want to win a national title and the answer is, 'Yes I do,' then you can’t do it alone. There are a bunch of other guys like you on the team so you’ll have to share the ball.’’
Kentucky faces Louisville in the national semifinal Saturday in New Orleans. The Commonwealth will implode in delight.
Calipari has already toned down the rivalry with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, saying they don’t exchange cards but are friendly acquaintances. Calipari said if he had five players from Kentucky, he would be more worried about this being a big deal. He does not, so he’s not. And the players don’t seem too fazed by the Cardinals’ matchup, either.
The fans? Well, that’s another matter.
If Kentucky wasn’t the favorite to win the title before Sunday then it must be now. The Wildcats were the No. 1 overall seed and played like it Sunday. They head to face Louisville, with Kansas playing Ohio State in the other semifinal, so this is still Kentucky’s title to lose. The Wildcats can surely lose to Louisville or to KU or Ohio State. But they won’t be the overwhelming pick to do so.
“Has my team ever been the favorite? Let me think,’’ Calipari said. “At UMass, we were the No. 1 team but Kentucky had nine NBA players. And then the Memphis team, there was Kansas, North Carolina, we were a No. 1, but we weren’t the number-one No. 1. No one picked us to win. Last year, no one picked us to win.
“Yeah, it’s the first time. How about that. Are we the favorite?’’
“Wow. That’s a good thing I guess.’’
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.
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.’’
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.
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.’’
“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.’’
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - One day after debuting highlighter-yellow jerseys, the Baylor basketball team trotted onto the court for Friday’s Big 12 tournament semifinal against Kansas decked out in camouflage.
“A new look,” Perry Jones III said, and even though the forward was referring to the Bears’ apparel, he could’ve been talking about the entire program.
From the uniforms to the attitudes to the on-court play, everything about Baylor appears to have changed. On Friday, coach Scott Drew’s squad catapulted into the Big 12 tournament title game with an 81-72 semifinal victory over third-ranked Kansas -- the same team it lost to twice this season by an average of 16 points.
“This,” forward Quincy Miller said, “is how we should’ve been playing all along.”
Baylor, 27-6, was ranked as high as No. 3 after opening the year with 17 consecutive victories. But the Bears ended the regular season with an 0-4 mark against conference bluebloods Kansas and Missouri.
Baylor could beat the good teams, sure. But what about the great ones?
After whipping Kansas in what was basically a road environment at the Sprint Center on Friday, it became clear that Baylor could now be mentioned in the same breath as its conference rivals. No one ever doubted the Bears had Final Four-caliber talent. But now, for the first time all season, they look like a Final Four-caliber team.
“Make no mistake about it,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They beat us tonight. They were better than us, no question. That’s a good basketball team. They’re very talented.”
The victory propels Baylor into Saturday’s Big 12 tournament championship against Missouri. No team from Texas has ever won the conference’s postseason title. The Bears are currently projected as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. But there’s a chance they could move up to a No. 2 seed with a win against the Tigers.
Kansas, meanwhile, may have cost itself a No. 1 seed by losing to the Bears.
“Everyone, from a psychological (standpoint), wants to be on the highest seed line they can possibly be,” Self said. “But I think it’s more about matchups than a seed line.”
Kansas also might have squandered its chance to play in the Midwest Regional, which is just four hours away in St. Louis.
“To play in St. Louis means we would’ve had to have won two games,” Self said. “If we win two games, I could care less where we play. But we hurt ourselves tonight if we want to be No. 1 seed. I guess it could still happen, but some other teams would probably have to lose.”
“I’ve never said I was all right with the rivalry ending,” Self said. “I never said that. I’d like for it to go on. It’s just not going to.
“So we had two epic games with them this year. Two epic games. It’s unfortunate it’s going to end.”
And so, instead of Kansas, Baylor will be the team charged with trying to prevent the Tigers from walking away with the tournament trophy in their final Big 12 season. If the Bears continue to perform like they have in Kansas City, a victory would hardly come as as a shock.
Baylor has made a handful of adjustments in the last few weeks, and each of them is proving beneficial.
After playing a zone defense for most of the season, the Bears played primarily man-to-man defense against Kansas State and Kansas, which shot just 42.6 percent Friday.
“I was surprised they played man,” Self said. “That was a good move.”
Baylor has also started using a three-guard lineup with cat-quick point guard Pierre Jackson, 3-point specialist Brady Heslip and defensive standout A.J. Walton. All three are solid ball-handlers -- Baylor committed just nine turnovers against Kansas -- who are good at maintaining their poise. And their presence has given more room and freedom for versatile forwards such as Jones and Miller, who combined for 31 points Friday.
Baylor led by as many as 14 points early in the second half before an 18-3 run by Kansas put the Jayhawks up 58-56.
The game turned, though, when a loose ball was batted toward Heslip, who was wide open on the left wing. The sophomore swished a 3-pointer that put Baylor ahead 59-58. The Bears never trailed again.
Heslip came up huge again in the game’s final two minutes when he made a 3-pointer that extended Baylor’s 67-64 lead to 70-64. Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor countered with a layup on the other end, but Heslip responded with another 3-pointer to make it 73-66 with 1:17 remaining.
“You knew (Kansas) was going to make a run,” Drew said. “When they took the lead, I was really pleased with the poise our guys had and the togetherness, the character. For three first-year college guys and one second-year, I think they grew up a little bit tonight.
“That’s the great thing about playing in the Big 12. If you don’t have those (tests) in the regular season, you’re not seasoned and ready when the postseason comes.”
The Bears certainly look seasoned and ready now. Instead of grouping them in with the “best of the rest,” it’s time to include Baylor among the country’s elite. Even with those new uniforms.
“Hey,” Drew said, “they work for me.”
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