After an inconsistent start to the season, the Bears are looking to start fresh tomorrow with the opening of their Big 12 conference play against Texas. Unfortunately, this new part of the season won’t start so easily for Baylor.
“It’s been a little rough in non-conference, but we know the Big 12 is going to be just as tough,” Baylor guard Pierre Jackson said.
Even with a young team coming into this season, Baylor was not afraid of its tough schedule. But, after starting the season out at No. 19/18, the Bears had dropped out of the Top 25 rankings by the end of November, giving them a very harsh reality check.
“We have to settle down,” Jackson said. “At one point we thought we were the stuff, we thought we were really good…but if we have an ego, we’ve got to keep that down.”
The Bears return home to open conference after suffering a seven-point loss to then-No.13 Gonzaga exactly a week ago today. With students still on Christmas break, Baylor’s weeklong span without games couldn’t have come at a better time.
“This has been a great week since we got back from Gonzaga, and we’ve been able to spend a lot of practice time without class in session, so guys are getting a lot of shots up and we’re able to work and add and develop and improve on some things…and I think anyone who saw us play early in the year realizes we’re a different team than we were,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said.
During that week off, Baylor has been trying to perfect its rebounding and defense as it prepares to go up against Texas – a team known, especially this year, for its defensive strength.
The Longhorns lead the NCAA in field goal percentage defense (.337) and are second in three-point field goal percentage defense (.239). Texas has also held its opponents to an average of 58.2 points-per-game.
“First thing we have to do is make sure that we don’t turn the ball over and give them easy baskets,” Drew said. “On the other end, we have to rebound. That’s an area I think we’ve improved in, but that’ll be a continued area of focus and concern throughout the conference play.”
Currently, the younger players on the team are leading the rebounding charts for the Bears – freshman center Isaiah Austin and junior forward Cory Jefferson both average 8.6 rebounds per game. Baylor has recorded only 440 rebounds this season compared to Texas’ 528 rebounds.
Unfortunately for Drew, he will have to miss the fruits of his labor on the court during the conference opener. Drew will be sitting out the first two conference games as part of Baylor’s self-imposed NCAA penalties announced on April 11 after the NCAA uncovered a string of impermissible phone calls and text messages starting in 2008.
“We feel like we have one of the best coaching staffs in the country and they do a great job of pushing us in practice every day,” Baylor guard Brady Heslip said about Drew’s absence tomorrow. “We’re going to miss Coach Drew, but we’re confident in what we have and everything they bring.”
Drew joked in Friday’s press conference that his whole goal while watching the game from home will be not to break the TV.
Drew’s assistant coach, Jerome Tang, will serve as interim coach while Drew is out. Tang is in his 10th year as an assistant at Baylor.
Although Drew will be gone, Jackson said the Bears are excited to start conference play and get a fresh start. It’s even better, he said, to be starting it off with an in-state rivalry.
“I’m ready to go at some rivals,” Jackson said. “You know it’s always great to beat the Big 12 teams.”