The Longhorns (18-7, 8-3) go for their third straight conference win and look to stay on pace for a top four finish in the Big 12 as they visit Baylor (12-12, 2-9) on Saturday night in Waco. The game will be televised by Fox Sports SW (in Texas only) at 7 PM. Baylor enters this one losers of their last three and seven of their last eight games.
While the Horns have never fallen to the Bears under Rick Barnes, Baylor did come close to pulling off the upset in Austin just three weeks ago. Texas prevailed, 84-79, behind a strong defensive performance in the second half, scoring outbursts from Kevin Durant (34 pts) and AJ Abrams (22 pts), and 11 assists from DJ Augustin.
This is the third game in a stretch of four 'must win' games for the Horns. Texas needs at least ten conference wins to be assured of an NCAA tournament berth and probably at least 11 conference wins plus a win or two in the Big 12 tournament to secure better than a #7 seed in the NCAAs. A win in Waco will make both of those goals infinitely more attainable.
Baylor's Limited Home Success
Despite increases in experience and talent, the Bears remain at the bottom of the conference. Baylor is currently #165 in the RPI and are just 1-10 against the top 100. The Big 12 has been particularly tough, even for home teams. The Bears are just 2-3 at home in conference play and an awful 0-6 on the road in the Big 12. Their two conference wins have come over Texas Tech and Colorado.
Since Texas & Baylor Last Met
The Bears were unable to convert their near-miss against the Horns into any legitimate momentum: Since their trip to the Drum on January 27th, Baylor has lost three of four. After beating Colorado, the worst team in the Big 12, they've dropped three straight, with defeats on the road at Iowa State and Missouri, and to Oklahoma at home.
Refer back to the preview of the first Baylor game to refresh your memory of the Bears. In short, Scott Drew has a flock of talented guards in Aaron Bruce, Curtis Jerrells, and Tweety Carter, a solid forward in Kevin Rogers, and undeveloped seven-footers in Mamadou Diene and Josh Lomers.
Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report
Baylor is rated as 122nd best team in the country according to Pomeroy's latest ratings, while Texas has moved up to 28th following the win over Oklahoma State. Pomeroy's scouting report on Baylor shows an average offensive team (81st in adjusted offensive efficiency) and an awful defensive team (171st in adjusted defensive efficiency). The Bears allow opponents to shoot the ball well and grab too many offensive rebounds, and they struggle to create turnovers and defend the three-pointer. In short: they do almost nothing well on defense, and aren't much better on offense.
Keys to the Game: Texas
Defend the three-pointer. This was a key to the first game and something the Horns struggled with in the first half. Baylor and Aaron Bruce, in particular, lit up the Horns from behind the arc in the first twenty minutes, scoring 42 points on 55% shooting from the field. Texas stepped up their defensive intensity in the second half and prevailed by five, but there must be a better effort for 40 minutes on Saturday. On the 'road', Texas must limit the open looks for Bruce and Jerrells. It'll be interesting to see if Abrams draws the defensive assignment on Bruce after AJ defended JamesOn Curry so well on Monday. Because Baylor's inside scoring threats are so raw, there's simply no way this game should stay close without the Bears knocking down some three-pointers.
Crash the Glass Playing more man-to-man defense has improved our ability to compete on the glass but hasn't fully solved our rebounding woes. Rogers, Diene, and Lomers will all be able to grab offensive rebounds unless the Horns concentrate on blocking out. In the first game between these two teams, Baylor outrebounded the Horns by four and outscored them in the paint by 24 points; this must improve to secure a win in Waco.
Stay Balanced The greatest aspect of our win over Oklahoma State on Monday night was the offensive balance. All five starters scored in double figures and even Dexter Pittman, Craig Winder, and Connor Atchley found ways to contribute. As talented as Durant and Augustin are, the Horns are a much better team when everyone gets involved. In that regared, it will be important to get Abrams an open look or two from three early, for Justin Mason to attack the rim in transition, and to create some open mid-range jumpers for Damion James in the half court.
Even though Barnes is perfect all time against Baylor, there's no way he lets his young team overlook the Bears, especially after they almost stole one in Austin. I still maintain Baylor is better than their conference record, and they're bound to put it all together before season's end. . . but it won't be Saturday night. With plenty of Longhorn fans in attendance, Texas pulls away late as they limit the three-point barrage and ride 31 points from Durant to a 76-68 victory.