Surging with wins in five of the last six games, the No. 20 Texas Longhorns (18-6, 7-4) make the short journey up I-35 to face the No. 8 Baylor Bears (20-4, 8-3) to end a five-game stretch against top-25 opponents.
A victory for the Longhorns would reverse recent trends — Scott Drew’s program has won 10 of the last 11 games against Texas and hasn’t suffered a home loss in the series since 2016. The last half decade marked a stark reversal from the long-term dominance enjoyed by the Horns after winning 24 straight games against the Bears before a loss in the 2009 Big 12 Championship.
New Texas head coach Chris Beard is attempting to overcome his own issues against Drew, having lost seven of 10 overall and the last four matchups against Baylor.
And the Bears have been virtually unbeatable at the Ferrell Center in recent seasons, winning 36 of the last 39 home games with two of those losses coming by three points to ranked opponents.
As the record indicates, the Bears are once again a fearsome opponent, although Baylor may or may not feature guard LJ Cryer, the team’s leading scorer who was considered a game-time decision against Kansas State on Wednesday before once again sitting out, as he has for two weeks while dealing with a foot injury.
Since Cryer’s injury, the Bears have looked mortal, splitting the last four games, including a blowout loss to the Jayhawks and a narrow win over a bad Mountaineers team.
“You know, like all of us, they’re going through a little adversity lately just in terms of roster and getting their bodies back and healthy,” Beard said on Thursday. “We expect them to be at full speed on Saturday when we play.”
Despite the recent issues, this is still a team ranked No. 6 nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metric, boasting a balanced attack featuring the No. 9 defense and the No. 13 offense. Drew’s team hits the offensive glass hard while making 35.9 percent from three-point range. Opponents turn the ball over on 24.6 percent of their possessions thanks to Baylor posting the No. 6 steal rate nationally.
Protecting the ball against the Bears doesn’t ensure a victory, but it definitely helps.
Even if Cyer isn’t available, Baylor boasts strong guard play from James Akinjo, Adam Flagler, and Kendall Brown, in addition to streaky wing Matthew Mayer. In the frontcourt, Texas will have to match the energy of Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, who averages 8.6 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Known as Everyday Jon, the Cameroon native is coming off a career-high 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting against Kansas State on Wednesday.
Because Baylor isn’t a high-level team protecting the win and allows 49.9-percent shooting from inside the arc, Texas needs to be aggressive getting downhill with his guards and take advantage of senior forward Timmy Allen in the mid range.
One stat to watch — the Longhorns have a 48-8 advantage in points off turnovers in the last two games, but when the Bears win the battle of points off turnovers, they’re 16-0 this season.
The hope is that the recent stretch of wins facing a difficult schedule is a sign the Longhorns are finally gelling as a team after three losses in four games early in conference play reflected some growing pains.
“I think we’re finally at the place now where we realize all the ways that we can score and how we can play off one another in order for others to benefit,” junior forward Tre Mitchell said.
The advanced metrics indicate a difficult challenge for Texas — the win probability for Baylor is 71 percent, according to KenPom.com. But those metrics also can’t account for the confidence the Longhorns will take to the Ferrell Center after Monday’s thrilling win over the Jayhawks in Austin.
How to Watch
Time: 11:00 a.m. Central
Radio: Texassports.com affiliates