By Greg DeVries
Last season, the Baylor men’s basketball team fell in the Elite Eight to the eventual national champion Kentucky Wildcats.
Even though every starter from that Kentucky team is gone, the Bears will still get their shot at revenge at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
The Bears have stumbled out of the gate so far with a 4-2 record.
Baylor started the season in the top 25 and has been ranked as high as 16, but losses to Colorado and College of Charleston have dropped the Bears out of the rankings.
Now they are only receiving a few votes.
“We’re upset, but we can only be upset with ourselves,” senior guard Pierre Jackson said after the loss to College of Charleston. “Prior to the game, we didn’t prepare well enough as a team. We didn’t pay enough attention to the scouting report, and they executed well and capitalized on our mistakes.”
No. 8 Kentucky has experienced some early trouble, but the Wildcats are still 4-1 on the year with their lone loss coming to No. 2 Duke.
In its first game, Kentucky struggled to beat Maryland but pulled off the victory late by a score of 72-69.
One of the interesting matchups to keep an eye on will be freshman center Isaiah Austin against Wildcat freshman center Nerlens Noel.
Noel was the top-ranked recruit coming out of high school last year, and Austin was just two spots behind him at no. 3.
Both players have long arms that alter shots in and around the paint.
Statistically, the players are similar. Both average over 10 points per and eight rebounds per game.
“I’m not really nervous. It’s kind of like playing AAU all over again,” Austin said. “I’ve played against a lot of those guys on the [AAU] circuit before. The only difference is going to be the crowd. I haven’t played in front of a crowd of 24,000. That’s unheard of, but it’s going to be fun.”
The crowd noise has been something that no team has been able to overcome at Rupp Arena in years. Kentucky’s last loss at home was in March of 2009.
Senior guard A.J. Walton has charged himself with the responsibility of keeping his team under control.
“Home court advantage is going to play a role, so I’m going to be making sure young fellas and returning players don’t get hot-headed,” Walton said. “[I will be] making sure they get the touches that they need, making sure we stay together as a team, trying to tune out the crowd. I know it’s going to be loud in there.”
Baylor has suffered its fair share of injuries this season.
It started with Austin rolling an ankle early in the year.
In a stroke of bad luck, junior guard Brady Heslip had his appendix removed.
He has been going through limited practice, but the team hopes that he will be ready to go for tipoff.
“When you play a team that has the nation’s longest [home winning] streak, you want to be at full strength and you want to put your best foot forward, especially on CBS and a great opportunity like this,” head coach Scott Drew said. “We’re hopeful that we will be a lot [closer to] full strength than we were last game, that’s for sure. It’s been nice to have a full week of practice for once too.”