By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor men’s basketball has gotten off to a hot start this season. The Bears have won seven of eight, with their only loss against now No. 4 Syracuse in the Maui Invitational championship game.
With the momentum, No. 20 Baylor (7-1) will look to upset No. 3 Kentucky (7-1) today at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The game will be the third of the season for Baylor against a team that has been ranked in the top 25.
“Playing in AT&T Stadium is going to be a cool thing,” head coach Scott Drew said. “The good thing is with the Final Four, we knew a couple of years out and we knew we could prepare for it. Shooting in a dome is tougher because of depth perception, but having this game is a great thing knowing your Final Four location.”
Senior power forward Cory Jefferson has been the leader of this Baylor squad. The Killeen native is averaging 13.5 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game. Both marks lead the team.
Junior college transfer Kenny Chery has manned down the point guard position effectively. He is averaging 10.8 points per game and 4.9 assists per game. The Baylor offense as a whole is shooting 50.2 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from the three-point line.
Baylor’s impressive frontcourt has outrebounded their opponents by more than 10 rebounds per game. Led by sophomore center Isaiah Austin, Baylor averages just under seven blocks per game. Austin by himself averages 3.1 per game.
Kentucky starts four freshmen this season: power forward Julius Randle, point guard Andrew Harrison, shooting guard Aaron Harrison and forward James Young. The only other starter, center Willie Cauley-Stein, is a senior. All four freshmen were rated top 10 recruits in the 2013 ESPN 100.
Randle leads a highly-touted lineup for Kentucky. Randle averages 18.1 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The superstar freshman also shoots 53.6 percent from the field. Randle is a consensus top-five prospect for the upcoming NBA Draft.
“Randle is someone everyone in Texas has known for a long time,” Drew said. “He’s an outstanding player. There’s not a lot of true low-post players, but we can match up with a good frontcourt.”
Twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison both measure out at 6-foot-6 and occupy the backcourt. They have combined this season for 24.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.2 rebounds per game in their first eight games.
Randle and the Harrison twins are both prospects from Texas. Randle is a native of Plano, and the Harrison twins are both from the Houston area, near Fort Hood. All three players held offers from Baylor before ultimately deciding to attend Kentucky.
This is the third year in a row featuring a Baylor matchup against Kentucky.
Last season, Baylor ended No. 8 Kentucky’s 55-game home winning streak at Rupp Arena in Lexington with a 64-55 win. Former point guard Pierre Jackson finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals to carry the Bears to victory.
The year before, Kentucky defeated Baylor 82-70 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament to clinch their way to the Final Four. Current New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks and two steals in the win.
Baylor will take on the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats at 9 p.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The game will be nationally broadcast on ESPN.
The game is part of a double-header featuring contests between Baylor and Kentucky’s men’s and women’s basketball programs.