By Daniel Hill
The Baylor Bears men’s basketball team makes its first conference road trip to Morgantown, W. Va., to take on the Mountaineers tonight. This 7 p.m. showdown will most likely help determine seeding for the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.
The Bears (16-9, 7-7) lead West Virginia by only one game in the Big 12 standings. The Mountaineers are 13-14 overall and 6-8 in the conference. The Bears have lost six of their last eight games and are 3-6 on the road in conference games.
In Baylor’s last contest, Oklahoma defeated the Bears 90-76. With just four games remaining in the Big 12 schedule, the Bears must salvage the season and gain some momentum heading into the postseason.
Despite the recent collection of losses, the Bears believe they can still achieve their goals this season.
“The Big 12 is a grind,” head coach Scott Drew said. “It’s not easy, but it only takes one game to get you on a roll and as long as we’ve got air in the ball and a chance to play, then we’ve got a chance to finish on a high note and we’ve got a chance to control our own destiny.”
Junior guard Gary Franklin believes the Bears will be a dangerous team in the NCAA tournament when all is said and done.
“I try to keep my team positive,” Franklin said. “We think of ourselves as one of those teams that can make a run in the tournament. Most of the teams that make a run in the tournament are the teams that nobody is talking about before the tournament actually happens. We’re not where we want to be, but I think we’ll make a good run going into the tournament.”
Even though the Bears lost to Oklahoma, Drew said there were some positives to take away from the game.
“As far as where we’re at, I was encouraged because we felt like we had something to build off of with the second half against Oklahoma,” Drew said.
He also was said that the Bears’ fortitude was impressive. Despite the large deficit, Baylor outscored the Sooners in the second half.
“I was encouraged as a coach and I think a lot of teams in those situations, when you’ve lost a couple of games, a lot of times you see a team get beat by 40,” Drew said. “I was encouraged that we went back out, we fought and gave ourselves a chance to where we could have cut it down to single digits in the second half if we had made a shot or two.”
One area where the Bears are looking for improvement against West Virginia is starting the game quickly and with immense intensity.
“No question, you’d like to get off to a better start,” Drew said. “Last time we played West Virginia, we got off to a pretty great start and then they came back. I think any road win in the Big 12 is a tough challenge and that’s because they have such great fan support and are such tough places to play with good players. With us, for us to be successful out there it starts with we can’t turn the ball over.”
Drew also said that turnovers have been a point of emphasis and that Baylor needs to protect the ball.
“We can’t give them second-chance points like we did against Oklahoma. From there, offensively, if we’re not making the outside shot, hopefully we can either get second-chance points or be able to mix it up and get some easier points in the interior.”
After the loss to the Sooners, senior guard Pierre Jackson said he settled for too many jump shots. Against the Mountaineers, Jackson looks to get into the paint more.
“We’ve got to get to the free throw line more and get it into the bigs,” Jackson said. “You know we’ve got some professional talent down low so we’ve got to get there ball in there. Myself and the guards have to try to get some fouls and get the ball up to them so we can try to get their bigs to move up so we can [get] some easy buckets down low for our bigs.”
Losing six of its last eight games. Being on the bubble for the NCAA tournament is not the way Baylor envisioned its season going.
“We’re upset about how things have been going,” Jackson said. “We didn’t expect this to happen, but every team has their ups and downs. Right now it happens to be one of our down times but [we] just have to stay positive and try to keep strong. We’re going to need all of the momentum that we can get towards the end of this conference run. Like I said, it’s not going to be easy. They’re at home and every away game is tough. We’ve just got to be focused.”