by Greg DeVries
Baylor men’s basketball will fight for a birth to the Final Four in New Orleans at 1:20 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Standing in its way is the top-ranked team in the country, the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky is led by freshman Player of the Year Anthony Davis. Davis, a 6-foot-10-inch center averages 14.3 points and over 10 rebounds per game. He also leads the nation in blocked shots with 169 on the season.
“[Baylor] is very talented, athletic, very long. It’ll be a great matchup for us,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a battle of who wants it more. Both teams are great offensively and defensively.”
As Baylor’s starting post players, sophomore Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy will have the task of defending the rim and handling Davis.
“We’ve gone against great shot blockers before,” Acy said. “Obviously, he’s the best in the NCAA, but we can’t shy away from him. We have to attack.”
“If we’re able to keep him off the glass, it will give us a better chance of winning the game,” Jones III added.
Kentucky likes to play at a high tempo. Friday night against Indiana, they eclipsed the century mark for the second time this season. This fast break is led by freshman Marquis Teague.
“They like to get it and go,” junior Pierre Jackson said. “On defense we’ve just got to stop the ball early and stop Marquis Teague. He’s a great point guard. [We] just have to stop him before he gets it past our court, and we have to know where the ball is. That way, we’ll be in good shape.”
Kentucky gets into the paint well in half-court sets, too. Stopping this penetration and forcing their wing players to pick up the ball will help the Bears.
“We definitely have to slow down the penetration because they have great guards. Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, [and] Darius Miller [are] great at getting to the cup and dishing it to Davis and [Terrence] Jones,” freshman Quincy Miller said. “So we’re definitely going to have to stop that.”
Wildcat fans are famous for their dedication. They travel well and will give Kentucky the home-court advantage. In an enclosed concrete area such as the Georgia Dome, the sound is definitely going to be a factor.
“They’ve got a crazy following. That’s just part of tradition. That’s one of the major things about college basketball,” sophomore Brady Heslip said. “I don’t know if they have 35,000 fans, but I know they have a lot and they’re real loud. But that’s what you live for. I like being the underdog.”
Head coach Scott Drew said Baylor is no stranger to loud, hostile environments.
“I think that was great about the Big 12 tournament, playing K-State, Kansas, and Missouri basically in their home arena, home crowds, to help us get ready,” Drew said. “We’ve been on the road most of the year. Some of our best games have been in hostile environments.”
Kentucky will be the highest-ranked team that Baylor faces all season, even if the Bears make it to the championship game in New Orleans.
“I’m enjoying [the experience]…I’m actually enjoying being one of the last eight teams standing,” Jones III said. “I’m going to enjoy playing on Sunday as well.”