MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Baylor coach Scott Drew found himself feeling apologetic Saturday after the Bears fell behind by 26 at halftime of what became a 90-76 loss at Oklahoma. He apologized to Baylor Nation, absorbed the blame for what he called his “worst coaching job” and tried to mine encouragement from the Bears showing a little fight in the second half.
But time is short for Baylor, which is far too talented to reside in Joe Lunardi’s “first four out” cluster as it does today. If the Bears don’t take care of business Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum, Drew could find himself making apologies for the NIT.
A five-key primer as the Mountaineers (13-14, 6-8) prepare to host Baylor (16-11, 7-7) at 8 p.m. Eastern:
1. Last time they met …
Freshman reserve Rico Gathers pounded WVU on the inside (six dunks and layups) for 22 points and Brady Heslip snipered WVU from the outside (five 3-pointers) on his way to 20 points as Baylor won 80-60 on Feb. 13.
West Virginia got flattened in the second half, when guards Eron Harris and Jarabie Hinds said the team stopped competing.
Coach Bob Huggins echoed that assessment as well, along with this beauty about WVU too frequently helping off Baylor’s top 3-point shooter: “If you leave Heslip open, he’s going to make shots. Everybody in America knows that … except the seven or eight guys I had guarding him.”
First came an 81-61 loss at Kansas State, in which point guard Pierre Jackson finished with seven points, to snap his string of 31 games in double-figures scoring. Then came an 87-82 home loss to Iowa State in which Jackson scored 30 but Baylor allowed the Cyclones to shoot 54 percent. Then came the debacle at Oklahoma, where the Sooners put the game away by intermission.
3. Bears on the bubble
That three-game skid explains why Baylor now has work to do just to get back into the NCAA field of 68. With an RPI of 61 entering Wednesday, the Bears likely need to win their final two road games at WVU and Texas, split home games against K-State and Kansas, and win a game at the Big 12 tournament.
Drew said it’s impossible to shield his players from all the bubble chatter and NCAA scenarios.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. “Basketball players are going to watch basketball, they’re going to watch ‘SportsCenter’ and they’re going to see the constant updates of first four in, last four out. So we want to play every game with the importance of knowing what’s at stake, but at the same time, not be so uptight and wound up that you’re not able to perform at your best.”
4. Action Jackson
Jackson’s transformation from a shoot-first junior college combo guard to a well rounded Baylor point guard has been a success, even if the Bears’ season hasn’t. The senior has all but locked up the Big 12′s scoring (19.2 points) and assists (6.42 per game) titles.
“You watch him for two minutes and you see he’s got another gear in him that most college players don’t have, and maybe a lot of people in the NBA don’t have,” Drew said.
“He can get anywhere he wants to on the court. What makes him unique is that he can actually shoot it as well. Normally people don’t have that ability to do both — get by people and shoot it.”
5. Sloppy memories
Baylor’s runaway in Waco was fueled by 18 West Virginia turnovers. Though WVU’s 13.1 turnovers rank fifth in the Big 12 (and the Mountaineers’ plus-1.44 turnover margin ranks third), Huggins said his team’s miscues tend to be ill-timed and particularly devastating.
“Our turnovers have been at the worst times in the worst ways,” he said. “Sometimes I think our guys are colorblind. We have a tendency to throw it to the wrong team at times. We have too many live-ball turnovers, and live-ball turnovers result in baskets for the other team.