By Cody Soto
It hasn’t been an easy road for the No. 20-ranked Baylor Bears, and the strength of the Big 12 is proving itself to be the deepest conference in the nation with less than three weeks to go in the regular season.
After a five point win over Texas Tech on Tuesday night, the Bears (19-7, 7-6 Big 12) host unranked Kansas State on Saturday afternoon in one of their final games at the Ferrell Center.
The team has proven to be one of the most complex teams through several statement wins but have also tripped up a few times for rough losses. One of their blemishes in their 7-6 conference record is the team’s 63-61 loss to unranked Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. last month.
Baylor just took a thrilling 74-73 win over then-No. 11 Iowa State on Jan. 14, but three days later, the Bears couldn’t put up a last minute shot with four seconds to go for a chance to win the matchup in overtime.
The Bears held as much as a 12-point lead over the Wildcats in the Jan. 17 meeting, but Kansas State stormed back to take the lead with six minutes to go in Manhattan.
Senior guard Kenny Chery made the game-winning basket against the Cyclones but couldn’t get his shot to fall against the Wildcats a few days later. However, that wasn’t the only problem for the Bears during the late game stretch.
“We definitely played hard, but we let the game get away from us in the end,” junior forward Taurean Prince said. “We weren’t finishing out plays, we weren’t rebounding. Our turnovers from the entire game definitely made a difference.”
Chery finished the game with 21 points, followed by Prince with 20 points. The rest of the team made six points or less in the two-point loss, falling to 2-3 in conference play at the time.
The Bears had a poor shooting performance in the second half against the Wildcats, and fans saw a glimpse of that again on Tuesday. Baylor went from a 48 percent first half percentage to only making five shots in the final 20 minutes. However, the Bears aren’t going to be discouraged by that. In the end, it’s the win that matters, Prince said.
“We’ve just got to make shots and focus,” Prince said. “You miss 100 percent of the shots that you don’t take, so don’t be afraid to shoot the ball. Shoot it comfortably and shoot high percentage shots.”
Baylor returns home to play three of its final five conference games before postseason play, and the last time the Bears and Wildcats clashed at the Ferrell Center, fans were treated to a 87-73 double overtime Baylor win.
Former player Brady Heslip made a game-tying three pointer at the buzzer to send both teams into overtime, showing that every shot counts in the Big 12.
“At the end of the day, if things come down to the last shot, you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Our job is to try to not get into that situation if there’s anyway possible. Especially in the Big 12, it comes down to the last shot.”
With five games left before the Big 12 tournament, every game is a big opportunity to win for Baylor, and it all starts with the home court advantage, Drew said.
“[In Manhattan], Kansas State fed off their fans and got some timely shots from guys who statistically made big plays,” Drew said. “We’ve bounced back successfully so far this year, and that’s what we need to keep doing because we all know how tough it is on the road. The key is to protect our home court, and fans are a lot more important than they may realize.”
No. 20 Baylor faces Kansas State at noon on Saturday as part of the final home stretch at the Ferrell Center. The game will be aired on ESPNU.