By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor basketball has pulled a miraculous turnaround after looking dead in the water only a few short weeks ago.
The Bears are now winners of four straight with only four games left to go in the season.
Baylor (18-9. 6-8) will look to add to its NCAA Tournament resume as the Bears travel to Austin for their penultimate road game against No. 24 Texas (20-7, 9-5) at the Frank Erwin Center.
Baylor comes into this game after consecutive wins against TCU, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
“We definitely feeling better than we were at the first part of conference,” senior power forward Cory Jefferson said. “Everyone’s spirits are high.”
Against West Virginia, junior forward Royce O’Neale posted a career game with 22 points, six rebounds and six assists on perfect 8-for-8 from the field and 4-for-4 from three.
“I’ve never had one like that,” O’Neale said. “100 percent? I felt like I couldn’t miss.”
Jefferson, a fellow Killeen native, knew that O’Neale had the ability to shoot the way he did.
“I’ve been telling him to shoot it for a while,” Jefferson said. “He’s one of the best shooters on the team.”
Baylor’s frontcourt has been key to its turnaround. In the four wins, the frontcourt of sophomore center Isaiah Austin and senior power forward Cory Jefferson has combined for 33.5 points, 17.0 rebounds and 8.0 blocks per game on a combined 52.7 percent.
Baylor has also benefitted greatly from the return of junior point guard Kenny Chery after a foot injury.
Chery is averaging 7.5 assists per game over the last four, and posted the first triple-double in Big 12 conference play by a Baylor player against Kansas State with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.
“It’s been good for us to have Kenny back, but I think it’s also been good for him,” head coach Scott Drew said. “When he was out, he lost some rhythm with his teammates.”
Texas enters the matchup after a beating from Kansas 85-54. Drew dismissed the idea he is worried about the Longhorns trying to bounce back against the Bears.
“Right now we’re more concerned about ourselves than what Texas is doing,” Drew said.
The Longhorns as a team outrebound opponents 41.9 to 34.1 and hold teams to 40.6 percent from the field.
“Texas is a very good defensive team,” Drew said. “The last time we played, I thought our shot selection wasn’t as good as it could have been. They’re a very physical team.”
In their last meeting, freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor scored a career-high 27 points on 10-for-18 from the floor as Texas stole one 74-60 from No. 24 Baylor. The Bears shot only 32.1 percent from the field and 3-for-17 from the three-point line in Waco.
With a win, Baylor can help to cement its place in the NCAA Tournament after a nightmare start to conference play.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi ranks Baylor as a No. 10 seed.
Baylor will play No. 24 Texas at 8 p.m. today at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
Junior forward Jonathan Holmes leads the Longhorns with 13.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on 51.9 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from three. Sophomore center Cameron Ridley has come on to average 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in conference play.