By Daniel Hill
The Baylor Bears defeated the West Virginia Mountaineers 80-60 on Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center to move to 7-4 in the Big 12 Conference.
Baylor improved its overall record to 16-8.
With the win, Baylor is a legitimate contender to win the Big 12.
“Every game is a big game,” head coach Scott Drew said. “That’s what you have with the parity in college basketball. It makes it exciting. I think as a player, you want to have a chance to win conference championships and we’re in that position. So every game is a ‘must’ game as you could say, and we just want to make sure that we put our best foot forward in each of those games.”
The Bears jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead over the West Virginia Mountaineers off of a senior guard A.J. Walton layup, senior point guard Pierre Jackson layup and a three from junior guard Brady Heslip.
The resilient Mountaineers made a 7-0 run of their own to tie the game at 7-7.
The Baylor front court started to assert itself offensively as junior forward Cory Jefferson threw down a slam dunk.
Freshman forward Rico Gathers followed by scoring on a layup to make it 11-9 in favor of Baylor.
West Virginia sophomore guard Jabarie Hinds and freshman Eron Harris both had eight first half points for the Mountaineers.
Gathers led the Bears in first half points with eight and Jackson contributed seven points and three assists.
On the last Baylor possession before half time, junior guard Gary Franklin buried a three to send the Bears into the locker room at half with a 31-27 lead.
With the game tightly contested, the true turning point for the Bears was when they went on an eight-point run fueled by two three-pointers from Heslip, and a fast break layup from Jackson off of a steal to give Baylor a 46-34 lead.
The true dagger came for the Bears when Heslip finished off the Mountaineers with another three pointer to give the Bears a 14 point lead that the Mountaineers would not overcome.
Baylor continued to pour on the points as Gathers followed Heslip’s three with a rim-rattling slam dunk.
Jackson earned another steal and was fouled on his layup attempt at full speed and converted both of his free throws. Then Gathers scored five of Baylor’s next seven points to increase the Bears lead to 72-50.
Walton and freshman forward Taurean Prince put the finishing touches on the game with layups to put Baylor at the 80 point mark.
Gathers led all scorers in the game by reaching a career-high 22 points. Gathers also had nine rebounds as he was a true X-factor in the Bears win.
“We are coming down to the last stretch of the conference, so every game at this point in time counts,” Gathers said. “You can’t have any let-down games and tonight we just wanted to make sure that we played to the best of our ability, and that’s what we did.”
Heslip found a rhythm and scored 20 points by shooting six of nine from behind the 3-point line.
“I don’t think it was just like a breakout,” Heslip said. “I think when my teammates find me and I’m taking nine threes a game you know I’m confident in my ability to make a majority of them or a good amount of them. The last few games I’ve been shooting the ball better.”
Jackson finished the game with 15 points and nine assists. Jackson distributed the ball to his open teammates and the Bears had a well-rounded scoring night as a team.
“You see I got nine assists tonight, you know I’m never going to stop passing it to Brady,” Jackson said. “I still think he’s the best shooter in the country. When you’ve got Rico finally finishing and-one’s, you can’t beat us when he comes off the bench and is explosive like that.”
The Bears will next take on Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman.