Bears power through tough season, lean on one another for support
The 2012-13 season for the Baylor men’s basketball team was a rather rocky one. Baylor was able to win some highly impressive games this season but its inconsistency led it to lose some easier games on the schedule.
The Bears handed Kentucky its first home loss in 55 games, which was John Calipari’s first home loss as head coach of the Wildcats.
At the same time, the Bears had ugly home losses against College of Charleston and Northwestern.
To cap off a disappointing season, the Bears found out Sunday they did not make the NCAA Tournament. They lost nine out of their final 13 games and finished with an 18-14 record. Head coach Scott Drew said although they have lost many of these games, they had multiple opportunities to win them.
“I think, first of all, we played the tougher half of our schedule,” he said. “I think that’s indicative of the record and I think we lost some close games that could have gone either way. It’s a situation where we’ve got to close games. Give the other teams credit for making plays.”
Most of Baylor’s losses came in conference play, where they held a 9-9 record. These include an overtime loss to Oklahoma State, three-point and five-point losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State respectively, and a heartbreaking loss at the buzzer to Kansas State.
Senior guard Pierre Jackson, who had been the Bears’ leader and arguably their best player this season, said the team wasn’t ready to throw in the towel before they found out about their exclusion from the tournament.
“Nobody is hanging their heads,” he said. “We know we still got a lot of fight in us. We’re a really good team, we can compete with anybody. We all have to be focused.”
Jackson has been one of the most electrifying players in the nation ever since he transferred to Baylor last year. Jackson led the Big 12 in scoring and assists with averages of 19.8 and 6.5.
Jackson is the first player to lead a power-6 conference in both scoring and assists since Jason Terry did it in 1998-1999 for Arizona. Although these are highly impressive numbers, Jackson said he would sacrifice them if it meant putting the team in a better position in the conference.
“If I could trade all of that to be top two in the conference, I would do it in a heartbeat,” he said. “It’s a cool accomplishment but it’s not doing enough to help us win games. I’ve got to do more.”
Jackson is one of 12 finalists for the Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year award. Drew said his value to the team is priceless.
“We all realize just how valuable Pierre is,” he said. “I think Baylor Nation wouldn’t trade him for any other guard in the country, and neither would we.”
March 9 was senior night for Baylor, where three seniors played their last game in the Ferrell Center. Along with Jackson, guard A.J. Walton and forward Jacob Neubert played. The Bears hosted the Kansas Jayhawks, who were ranked fourth in the nation.
Before the game, Walton said he was excited and hoped to end his career at the Ferrell Center on top.
“I’m excited and ready for a big day,” he said. “It’s been a great journey, everybody who’s come here from freshman year through now. I love each and every one of them like brothers. We haven’t beaten Kansas here in conference since I’ve been here so that’ll be great for us and Baylor.”
Drew said he had a lot of respect for the Jayhawks, and although the Bears struggled to score, they played exceptional on the defensive end in their last meeting.
“Kansas has been a team that has played as well as anybody in the nation,” he said. “Last time we played them, defensively we did a very good job against them. Offensively, we weren’t as efficient as we would have liked to have been.”
The Bears played the Jayhawks in Lawrence, Kan. earlier this year, where they lost by 17 and scored a season-low 44 points.
This meeting was different for Baylor. The Bears were firedup from the tip and never took their foot off the pedal.
Jackson led the way with 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists as the Bears handed the Jayhawks their fifth loss of the season. It was Baylor’s first win in the series since March of last year.
One of the primary issues with the Bears this season was closing out games. Jackson said, offensively, the Bears are fine, but it’s on the other end of the court where they need to improve.
“Defensively, we’ve got to get stops and communicate on defense,” he said. “That’s how you close games, on defense.”
The Bears still have some obstacles to overcome in the offseason. Jackson and Walton, who make up the starting backcourt, will both be gone next season.
It is unknown if freshman center Isaiah Austin will declare for the 2013-14 NBA Draft as well. Regardless, Baylor has a lot to work on for next season.