By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
No. 5-ranked Baylor men’s basketball will hit the road to face Ole Miss at 5 p.m. on Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
The game is a part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, an event that pits teams from each conference against each other to take a break from scheduled conference play.
Despite the game not affecting the conference championship race, Baylor junior guard Manu Lecomte stressed the importance of winning.
“It is kind of weird that it’s not a Big 12 team,” Lecomte said. “But Coach [Scott] Drew is always hyped about these games, so we’re going out there with a lot of motivation.”
This is the fourth and potentially last year of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Bears are 3-0 in the challenge, with wins over Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia.
Drew suggested that conference pride is one reason the Bears play so well in challenge games.
“Whenever you represent your conference, it’s a great honor and privilege,” Drew said. “We’re undefeated in challenge games and the only Big 12 team to do that, so we want to keep that streak going.”
Ole Miss is led by junior guard Deandre Burnett and senior forward Sebastian Saiz.
Burnett, a transfer from Miami, Fl., leads the Rebels in scoring at 17.7 points per game. Saiz averages a double-double, putting up 15.6 points per game while grabbing 11.3 rebounds per game.
Defensively, Drew says Ole Miss brings challenges due to their schemes and athleticism.
“Defensively they do a lot of one-three-one [zone],” Drew said. “It’s a team that is really aggressive in the passing lanes, athletic and likes to get steals.”
Baylor has three players averaging double figures in scoring — Lecomte, junior forward Johnathan Motley and junior guard Al Freeman.
Motley leads the Bears in scoring at 16.2 points per game while grabbing a team-leading 9.6 rebounds per game as well.
Lecomte leads the Bears in assists at 4.5 per game and plays the most minutes on the team, averaging 29.2 minutes per game.
Freeman is tops on the team in three-point percentage, pacing the Bears outside attack with a 38.8 percent average.
On the other side of the ball, Baylor is having its best season under Drew. The Bears lead the Big 12 in both rebounding margin and blocked shots. Additionally, Baylor ranks fourth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Following the trip to Ole Miss, the Bears continue a stretch of road games with a tilt at No. 2-ranked Kansas next Wednesday.
Despite the matchup against the Jayhawks being critical to the Big 12 title chase, Lecomte said they are not focusing on that right now.
“We haven’t talked about Kansas,” Lecomte said. “The coaches haven’t talked about Kansas. We’re just focusing on Ole Miss.”
Baylor is 8-1 all time against SEC since 2012, including two wins versus Kentucky. This will be just the second meeting between the Bears and Rebels, with Baylor winning the first matchup 132-113 on December 29, 1970.