By Cody Soto
No. 19 Baylor men’s basketball has turned some heads this season. With a 16-5 record midway through conference play, the Bears have been able to shake off some preseason questions with several key wins on a tough Big 12 slate.
Baylor has been able to dominate one place specifically: the Ferrell Center.
The Bears are 16-1 at home since Feb. 15, 2014, only losing to No. 8 Kansas at home by a single point. The Ferrell Center is becoming arguably one of the best places to watch Baylor play some of its best basketball, going back to last season.
The Bears capped off their home season with an impressive win over No. 16 Iowa State and have hosted and defeated three ranked teams this season. Junior forward Lester Medford commented on the crowd’s involvement after the team’s 69-58 win over then-No. 19 Oklahoma on Jan. 24.
“[The crowd] helped out a lot,” Medford said. “Our student section was unbelievable. They cheered the whole game whether we were down or we were up.”
The unification of the Bear Pit as a single student section has added an electric atmosphere to the student section, allowing students and band members to collaborate at each home game and give the Bears a reason to defend their home court. Junior forward Rico Gathers said the fans are a consistent factor during home contests.
“I really appreciate our fans,” he said. “They really represent, and that’s what really gets us motivated and keeps us going.”
Fans have been able to watch Baylor exceed its own expectations after losing Brady Heslip, Gary Franklin, Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin last year. Head coach Scott Drew looks to extend the team’s success beyond a few good performances. With the current Big 12 schedule, the Bears have the opportunity to make a run.
“We’ve had some big games at home where we played well,” Drew said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to consistently carry that to two, three, four or five games, and a lot of that is because of the competition. With that I think our team has confidence in knowing how good we can be.”
Drew points to his two seniors when it’s time to get the job done. Senior guard Kenny Chery and senior forward Royce O’Neale aren’t overlooked at any time whether the Bears are winning or not.
“With Royce and Kenny’s leadership, they’re humble guys and they’re not entitled guys,” he said. “They bring their hard hats to work every day and because of that we don’t overlook people. We might get beat but I don’t think it’s because we overlook them.”
Now, their impressive home court advantage will be put to the test as Big 12 rival TCU and Baylor face off tonight in Waco. The rekindling of the rivalry made its official comeback during football’s 61-58 win over the Horned Frogs at McLane Stadium, and now each game has a different intensity.
Baylor captured a 66-59 overtime win in Fort Worth during the last meeting between these two teams on Jan. 10, but the biggest factor was poor shooting on both sides of the ball. Baylor overcame a 29.8 percent-effort from the field.
“That was last time,” junior forward Taurean Prince said. “In our last game, we shot well, so we’re going to go off of that one and hopefully we can carry that over to the next game.”
In the matchup, both junior forward Rico Gathers and TCU’s Kenrich Williams face off for the second time this season on the boards. Gathers is ranked No. 1 in rebounds per game (12.0) while Williams ranks fifth with 6.7 boards per contest. The Bears look to beat the Horned Frogs again on the boards after a 49-41 rebounding difference in their first meeting.
“Overall, they’re a physical team,” Chery said. “We know that now, and we’ve just got to go out there and play physical with them and match their intensity. Our plan is to be prepared and execute and make the right plays.”
Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. today at the Ferrell Center. The game will also air on ESPNEWS.