By Greg DeVries
Junior Pierre Jackson’s mood in the post-game press conference summed it all up. Each sentence flowed as though it were a sigh.
“Every loss is horrible, but being that it’s our last game of the season, it really sucks,” Jackson said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but we’re just going to get back in the gym and get ready for next year.”
Baylor lost to Kentucky 82-70 Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, to end the Bears’ season in the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
A season-ending loss must hurt, but Kentucky is the top-ranked team in America. Their team is riddled with NBA lottery picks. In the middle of their defense, they have Player of the Year Anthony Davis.
On top of all of that, Kentucky has home-court advantage throughout the postseason because of their die-hard “Big Blue” nation.
Despite having the odds stacked against them, the Bears fought hard. They played well, but the Wildcats were just too much to handle.
“The goal [was] no dunks,” head coach Scott Drew said. “And I think that was out the window four seconds into the game, it seemed like.”
The dunks were a result of Kentucky’s great transition game. By halftime, the Wildcats had 13 fast-break points. These fast breaks started off of Baylor’s missed shots.
“I think first half, we rushed and took some shots that we shouldn’t have taken,” Drew said. “When you shoot 32 percent, you’re giving a lot of chances for fast breaks … When you don’t execute on the offensive end, have nine turnovers, you’re going to give up transition.”
Kentucky went on a huge run to end the first half.
The Wildcats went into the locker room up by 20, and Baylor was never able to recover.
“Earlier in the year, we couldn’t handle the elite teams making runs on us,” Drew said. “At the end of the year, we did. I think that’s why we won some of the games we’ve won. But a team like Kentucky, you can’t let them go up 20.”
Sophomore Perry Jones III, who was named an Honorable Mention AP All-American with Jackson, had trouble getting into a rhythm in the first half. Jones III shot just 1 of 5 and recorded two points.
In the second half, Jones III caught fire and finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. He attacked the middle of Kentucky’s defense and got Davis in foul trouble.
This was one of the sparks that started a run for the Bears to bring the game within 10 points late in the game.
“I just did my best to be aggressive for my team, because my teammates were telling me just to do my best and establish a position on the inside and have an inside game,” Jones III said.
Despite the on-court accolades his team accrued, Drew said he appreciates the achievements his team earns in the classroom.
The Bears tallied seven individual academic awards, have six players with GPA above the 3.0 mark, and have the highest team cumulative GPA in program history this season.
“So often we want college kids to be student-athletes, and yet when they do well academically, we might not give them the praise they get when they execute on the court,” Drew said.
This academics-first attitude was highlighted by Baylor coach Grant McCasland’s tweet.
He tweeted a picture of senior Quincy Acy huddled over a laptop, writing a six-page paper for class at 11:30 p.m. the night before the game against Kentucky with the hashtag “#StudentAthlete.”