Bears Look To Claw Out Of Two-Game Skid, Host No. 11 Longhorns Saturday
Bears Look To Claw Out Of Two-Game Skid, Host No. 11 Longhorns Saturday
By Denton Ramsey, NCAA Basketball Sportswriter
WACO, Texas — On Saturday, Feb. 16, Baylor (17-6 overall, 5-4 Big 12) will host Big 12 rival No. 11 Texas (20-4, 7-2) as the Bears aim to end a two-game skid in front of a sold out, gold out crowd at the Ferrell Center.
The game is slated to tipoff at 5 p.m. CT and will be broadcast live on ESPN, where the Bears own a 9-4 record in their last 13 nationally televised games.
“I don’t think we have to give [the team] much motivation, speeches or talks when it comes to [facing] Texas,” Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew said. “The guys are usually pretty excited to play them, and the last four games have been very close and come down to the wire – and we just need to change the outcome of the game.”
Drew’s Bears face a difficult task ahead, but that hasn’t stopped the talented and optimistic bunch from having a very successful season thus far – becoming the Cinderella surprise of both the Big 12 Conference as well as the country.
“We’ve got to get back to the basics,” Drew said. “Why we won games early: we were defending, we were rebounding – and I think the last couple games we’ve tried to outscore people, and that doesn’t work.”
After dropping a pair of road losses – to the highly touted and highly ranked Kansas Jayhawks before falling in Stillwater to the upbeat Oklahoma State Cowboys – the Bears look to bounce back tomorrow afternoon at home.
“The first half [on the road against Oklahoma State] was the first time all year where we have not had the effort and come to the game ready to play,” Drew said. “And, for whatever reason, you can’t give yourself a 20-point hole and then crawl out of it on the road very often.
“Hopefully it will be a learning tool and we won’t have another one of those for the rest of the year. Right now, we’re just ready to get this taste out of our mouth [after two conference losses] and we’re looking forward to Saturday.”
Despite the back-to-back losses, Drew’s Bears are still confident heading into tomorrow’s matinee match-up.
“We have a group that has been through a lot of games, and – at the same time – we’ve won 17 this year and I think we know how to win,” Drew said. “It’s just a matter of getting back to doing what we need to do in order to win – and I think Saturday is a great opportunity for us and we’re very excited about that.”
Although BU ended up dropping their second straight Big 12 game on Wednesday night in Stillwater, Drew was still proud of his Bears’ second half effort – twice cutting the Cowboys’ 20-point lead to nine.
“I think the second half showed the character of our team,” Drew said. “I thought we really played a good 20 minutes as far as coming out with effort and intensity, which picked up a lot. Hopefully that carries over for the Texas game.”
In addition to Saturday’s ESPN televised game being sold out, the Bear Pit (Baylor student cheering section: just think Cameron Crazies, but green and gold) will be joined by many in the crowd in showing their support for BU – as fans entering the game will be given a gold t-shirt at the door, hence the ‘gold out’ terminology for tomorrow’s Lone Star showdown in Waco.
“I think that anyone who follows college basketball knows just how successful Duke Basketball has been,” Drew said. “They do it the right way, their kids come across the right way, they represent their school the right way – so, they do a lot of things positive and we want to do the same thing and win as many games as them.”
Sounds good to me, both as a fan of Coach K and Duke hoops as well as a sports writer with a passion for college athletics, and I have no doubt the Baylor program is heading that direction with Drew at the helm.
Recharging BU’s Defense
According to Drew, his young Bears already have the talent and ability to succeed; all they really need is a regrouping and recharging as a team – beginning with defense.
“Defensively, we’ve given up too much dribble penetration, haven’t contained the ball enough, haven’t been rotating as well as we did earlier [this season] and haven’t gotten in the passing lanes as much as we were,” Drew said. “Credit some of the teams we’ve played: at Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma State – some of the tougher places to play, and those teams played well and they had something to do with it. But we’ve got to take care of what we can control.”
Included in the list of what the Bears can control: blocking out and rebounding.
“With rebounding I think we’re making a more conscious effort since the Texas game to block out,” Drew said. “Now we’ve just got to do a better job in blocking out and retrieving the ball; we’re hitting [the boards] – we’ve just got to work on the getting.”
Baylor prided itself on team defense to begin the season, holding opponents to around 40 percent shooting from the field.
“If you can do that, usually you’re going to be successful as long as you’re blocking out and rebounding with that,” Drew said. “The other thing is, on the offensive end, we have turned the ball over more than we did earlier in the year too – which has allowed for some easy transition baskets for the other team – and we need to make sure that we do a better job of taking care of the ball so we don’t give up easy baskets.”
According to Baylor’s Kevin Rogers, the Bears’ main problem defensively has been a mental collapse.
“I think it’s just a lack of focus – it’s nothing we have to fix, it’s just us figuring out what we need to do – because it’s nothing that we haven’t done before,” Rogers said. “Our defense [is one of the reasons] we have the record we have – it’s just a lack of focus.”
Camping Out In Drew-Land
With Saturday’s game sold out to the public, and with the BU campus decked in green and gold as the team’s sixth-man crew aims to help propel the Bears to a victory tomorrow on the hardwood, Baylor students are camping out in preparation for the I-35 showdown.
Call it Drew-Land, if you’d like – a play-on-words of Duke’s Krzyzewskiville – where die-hard fans line up early for the action, setting up tents and shelter for an evening of eager anticipation of what’s to come.
For those staying the night in Drew-Land, they may want to bundle up – as well as dig a ‘gutter’ around their one-night stay – with high winds, low temperatures and possible heavy thunderstorms predicted.
But that won’t stop the Bear Pit and friends from braving the storm, as their classmates aim to right the ship tomorrow afternoon against a deep and talented Texas team.
“A lot of excitement – should be the largest crowd in the school’s history and we’ve got students camping out,” Drew said. “They have a pep-rally the night before, so we need to make sure to give them a lot to cheer for come Saturday.”
Young Guns Having Fun
Recruiting talented players – yet with a focus on finding character-driven kids wanting to become a part of something bigger than themselves – has been a key to the Baylor Men’s Basketball program’s turnaround.
One of those talented newcomers include true-freshman LaceDarius “Kool” Dunn, who had a breakout game in Stillwater and was a vital reason the Bears had even a fighting chance against the Cowboys.
According to Dunn, defense is the key to ending Baylor’s current two-game skid.
“It’s going to be a big game and a big crowd – so I think one of the things we need to do is to go back to what got us here at the beginning of the season, and that’s defense,” Dunn said. “Each teammate has to go back and find that mold or that spot in their bodies that had us motivated that we wanted to play defense. I think that we’ve got to go back and pick that up – whatever it is we have to go find – and bring it to Saturday’s game.”
Defense is a priority – but according to Dunn, rebounding will also be a major factor in deciding this weekend’s winner.
“They are not going to come out and just give it to us, so we’re going to have to go out there and take it,” Dunn said. “We’ve got to be rebounding – coaches preach to us every day, ‘rebounding, rebounding,’ and there’s nothing more the coaches can do. We’ve got to want it for us – the coaches can’t go out there and play it for us – so we’ve just got to go out there and want it. Once we realize and find what got us here, which is defense, I think we’ll be okay.”
Dunn, who chose Baylor for both the brilliant hands-on coaching staff and a wonderful environment to get an education as well as play basketball, is happy with his decision to sign with Drew’s Bears.
“Since coming on campus, everything has been great,” Dunn said. “One of the reasons I came here was because of the coaching staff – it’s a great coaching staff and I wouldn’t want to play for anyone but the coaches at Baylor – they have great personality and they care for you not only on the court, but off the court.
“Coming here and having the good season that we’ve had so far, I really had a plan for me with the things that I contribute to the team; everything has been great and I am glad to be here at Baylor.”
I’m sure the coaching staff – as well as BU sports fans – are also glad to have Dunn on board this season.
McDonald’s All-American Tweety Carter is another example of a student-athlete with the ability and willpower to succeed both on and off the court, and his game has stepped up since he first set foot on campus last year in Waco.
Against OSU on Wednesday in Stillwater, Carter exploded late – way too late to be honest – draining multiple three-pointers in the games final seconds; though it was still nice to see that he hasn’t lost his ‘shooter’s touch’ from long range.
“I know we needed them,” Carter said. “That’s something that I have to shoot and knock down and get confident in taking that shot.”
For Carter and company, pulling off a must-win upset tomorrow in Waco means going back to the basics – including coming out the gates ready to play.
“It’s going to be another good game, and the Big 12 is a tough conference – every game you’re going to have to come out and it’s a toss-up,” Carter said. “If you don’t come to play, you can get beat on any given night; OSU came out and they attacked us and put it on us early – and that’s a game we just have to look past and get prepared for Texas.”
Come Saturday at 5 p.m. CT, preparation meets game time as the Bears and Horns tipoff in Baylor’s home dome – the Ferrell Center.
“It’s big – being home and playing in front of our home crowd,” Carter said. “It’s going to be a fun experience.”
For Dunn, Saturday’s game will be a big one – as the game very well could determine where the Bears go from here – and the young gun guard believes Baylor has the advantage, especially if they can get their swagger back.
“It’s going to be great – playing at home, having everybody cheering for you – and I think it’s better than playing on the road and having other fans rooting against you,” Dunn said. “Coming in on Saturday, I think we’ll have an advantage – we’ve just got to pick it up, and most importantly we’ve got to find that [intensity], because they’re not just going to come out and give it to us.”
Post Play Paint Slammin’
The Bears’ main big-man/go-to guy this season, when it comes to posting up and scoring inside, has been Rogers – and in my opinion, he still isn’t getting enough respect for his presence in the paint.
Rogers has put up some remarkable numbers this season – both in rebounding as well as timely scoring, soaring to new heights in 2008 as a recipient of the fan-friendly alley-oop.
So what does the big man think it will take to beat Texas?
“Just a total team focus,” Rogers said. “We can’t have as many turnovers as we’ve had the past two games; that’s just a mental breakdown. It’s going to take a team focus and being in the right position on every play; and Texas is such a great team – you give them an inch and they’ll take a mile – so you definitely have to bring your A-game.”
And tomorrow afternoon in the rockin’ Ferrell Center, Rogers and the Bears shoot for a big time, Big 12 victory over Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes and the Longhorns.
“[Being at home is] really big – you always want to play to your home crowd and hopefully come out and get a victory for those guys,” Rogers said. “But the home crowd will hopefully give us an extra advantage.”
If you ask Drew and the rest of the BU bunch, they will be the first to let you know that they have no problems with the home crowd – the team’s sixth man – helping to push Baylor to a major upset over Texas…
The Road Ahead
After tomorrow evening’s match-up under the Ferrell Center’s dome, Baylor will have six games remaining in Big 12 play – three on the road and three at home – as the Bears look to continue their rise from the ashes in college hoops.
The road ahead contains away games against Oklahoma, Colorado and Texas Tech, as well as home match-ups with Kansas State, Missouri and Texas A&M – with Baylor having already garnered a big road win over the Aggies earlier this season in a five-overtime thriller in College Station.
And for those in the highly competitive Big 12, the league boasts schedules that tend to include tough stretches that sometimes seem to never end.
“I think that’s a tribute to the Big 12,” Drew said. “It’s been as good as the league has been, maybe in the history of the league, from a standpoint that we’ve had nine out of 12 teams ranked or receive votes, RPI-wise we were first or second until conference play began – and some conferences began earlier than us, so our RPI dropped a little bit at that point – but top to bottom, we have a very competitive league and there are no easy games.”
Denton Ramsey may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
NCAA BASKETBALL FANS: DENTON RAMSEY WILL BE LIVE BLOGGING THE TEXAS-BAYLOR GAME ON SATURDAY AT THE FERRELL CENTER. CHECK BACK AT GAME TIME FOR LIVE NOTES, HALFTIME STATS, POSTGAME ANALYSIS, QUOTES AND MORE. DENTON WILL ALSO BE LIVE BLOGGING THE GAME FOR BIG12-FANS.COM VIA WWW.DFNSPORTS.COM/BIG12.