By Daniel Hill
The Baylor Bears will have a showdown tonight against the Oklahoma Sooners at 6 p.m. in the Ferrell Center.
The two teams are opposites in many ways. The Sooners boast frontline experience and talent but lack depth in the backcourt.
While the Bears are experienced in the backcourt with senior guards Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton, they lack experience in the frontcourt with freshman center Isaiah Austin.
“I think this is a team that in the frontline they provide a lot of experience and in the backcourt (Steven) Pledger brings that experience but most of their other guards are inexperienced,” head coach Scott Drew said. “So we have the experienced backcourt and they have the experienced frontline. Both of us are playing very good basketball, both of us have good RPI’s and it should be a good game.”
The Bears expect this matchup with Oklahoma to be the most physical game of the year due to the Sooners’ imposing frontcourt.
“(Senior forward Romero Osby has) been tremendous this year and that’s what you expect from fifth-year seniors,” Drew said. “(Senior forward Andrew) Fitzgerald is a fourth-year player. (Junior forward Amath) M’Baye is a fourth-year guy. They have a lot of experience up front. Osby’s not only one of the more skilled guys in the league, but he makes good passes and good decisions with the ball.”
Baylor junior guard Gary Franklin is in a groove after going a perfect four-for-four from behind the three-point line against TCU.
“I think my role has grown over the years,” Franklin said. “At first last year, I was one of those guys who was asked to make open shots and this year I’ve been asked to defend a little more. Offensively, I think as time goes on I’ll be asked to be more aggressive and that’s what I tried to do in the game against TCU. I took more shots than I usually would and they fell, which made me more comfortable to take the shots. I think it’s becoming a huge role for myself.”
Aside from his shooting, it’s his defensive improvement and effort that has earned him more playing time.
“Gary’s been tremendous,” Drew said. “He not only shot the ball well and is taking care of the ball. But on the defensive end, he’s really been solid and done a great job of picking up his level of play from last year on the defensive end and he’s been somebody that we’ve put him on the other teams leading scorer and he’s done well. Gary stretches the defense and now they can’t just focus on (junior guard) Brady. The big improvement, that statistically doesn’t always show is what Gary’s done on the defensive end. He’s been outstanding, especially in conference play and on the defensive end.”
Senior guard Pierre Jackson acknowledges that the foundation of Baylor basketball is on the defensive end and that it’s his responsibility to maintain the defensive effort.
In conference play, the Bears have played defense with added focus and hope to continue the trend against Oklahoma. The Sooners also shoot over 74 percent from the free-throw line, which is good for second-best in the Big 12.
“That’s where it all starts,” Jackson said. “Just getting stops and securing the rebounds. We all know we got some great scorers and we all can get buckets any time we want. We just preach defense and it starts with the guards.”
Freshman forward Rico Gathers has embraced the sixth man role for the Bears and brings added physicality and intensity from the bench.
“Being a freshman, anytime you’re able to come off the bench and you’ve got a senior point guard like Pierre and a lot of great players and you can be the spark, that’s a great role,” Gathers said. “I just took it with open arms. I just want to be the best sixth man I can be.”
The Bears are 14-5 overall and 5-1 in conference play. Oklahoma is just behind with a 13-5 overall record and 4-2 in conference play.
The game will air on ESPNU.