By Shehan Jeyarajah
On Friday night, we were reminded why we watch college basketball. No. 3 Kentucky came into Arlington with three superstar Texas freshmen who Baylor had failed to entice in the last recruiting cycle. No matter. By the time the day was done, Baylor proved to be the better team for the second season in a row.
Baylor came out strong early with a 16-7 lead behind two early dunks from Cory Jefferson. Kentucky would fight their way back to 29-29 behind four three-pointers combined between Aaron Harrison and James Young. Kentucky’s run would coast them to a 38-35 halftime lead.
In the second half, Kentucky extended their lead to 50-41 with 13:34 left in the game. At that point, Baylor’s run began. Taurean Prince hit two jumpers and Rico Gathers stole the ball twice, grabbed three offensive rebounds and scored four points to pull Baylor within 50-49.
Kentucky would continue to fight, but Baylor would take the lead back with 6:01 left in the game by means of two Kenny Chery free throws. The Wildcats would cut the lead to within a point, but would never take the lead back.
Junior point guard Kenny Chery led Baylor with 18 points, five assists and a steal on 8-for-15 shooting. Chery also shot 8-for-10 on field goal attempts within the arc. Senior forward Cory Jefferson contributed with 13 points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal. Sophomore center Isaiah Austin also added five block on Kentucky’s vaunted front line.
Freshman forward Julius Randle led the way for Kentucky with 16 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Freshman guard Aaron Harrison added 15 points and six assists on 3-for-5 from the three-point line. Outside of Randle, no Kentucky player had more than three rebounds.
Kentucky had been one of the best rebounding teams in college basketball heading into this game. The Wildcats average 47.6 rebounds per game on the season compared to Baylor’s 41.0 rebounds per game in their eight games. In this game however, Baylor outrebounded Kentucky 41-25 behind 13 rebounds from sophomore rebounding beast Rico Gathers.
On 33 offensive rebound opportunities for Baylor, the Bears grabbed 18. On 33 offensive rebound attempts for Kentucky, the Wildcats rebounded only 10 of them. Grabbing over 50 percent of your offensive rebound opportunities is an anomaly in college basketball.
With the win, Baylor moved to 8-1 on the season, with their only loss being to now No. 4 Syracuse. The Bears also have arguably the best win in the Big 12 so far this season. Kentucky on the other hand fell to 7-2 on the season. The Wildcats’ only other loss was to then No. 1 Michigan State.
Baylor will have nearly two weeks off before they return to Waco to take on Northwestern State on Dec. 18. Conference play will begin on Jan. 7 at No. 17 Iowa State.