By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Following its 89-69 loss on Jan. 10 to West Virginia, Baylor made a strong statement with a bounce back 77-68 victory over then No. 25 Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. Junior guard Manu Lecomte tallied a game-high 26 points and senior guard Ishmail Wainwright and junior guard Al Freeman scored 15 a piece to help the Bears avoid consecutive losses.
Three weeks later, the circumstances are the same. Baylor is coming off a devastating 73-68 loss Wednesday to the No. 3 Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., where the Bears had a chance to tie it on its final possession but turned the ball over under suffocating Jayhawk defensive pressure.
Lecomte said that the Kansas loss was a tough one to swallow but that the team is ready to get back to business.
“It was a great game, a great experience,” Lecomte said. “We learned a lot, watched a lot of film yesterday. But now on to the next one in K-State tomorrow.”
Once again the opponent standing in between them and beginning a new winning streak: the Kansas State Wildcats.
Based on previous matchups, Baylor head coach Scott Drew said he expects a tough matchup with a hungry Kansas State team on Saturday.
“It seems like every Big 12 team we have a close game with but K-State in particular, we’ve had a lot of one possession games,” Drew said. “They played really well down here in the past. Last year was a double overtime game down here so we know just the importance of making sure that we’re ready to go. They’re going to be hungry, we’re going to be hungry, both of us coming off losses.”
The Wildcats are an extremely well-balanced team offensively. Four players for Kansas State average 12 points per game and two players average nine a game.
Drew said when teams are as balanced as Kansas State is offensively, it provides a unique challenge in trying to develop a defensive game plan.
“They all do a good job passing it and sharing it,” Drew said. “Whenever you have five guys in double figures in conference, it’s more difficult to stop a team where everybody’s scoring about the same. They do a very good job taking good shots, high percentage shots and that’s why they’ve been effective offensively.”
In the first matchup, the Wildcats surrendered to the Bears on the outside, picking its poison on the perimeter and refusing to let junior forwards Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. beat them down inside. Despite grabbing 21 rebounds, the pair was limited to a combined 13 points.
Regardless of the outcome just 20 days ago, Lual-Acuil Jr. said that the mindset of controlling the paint and playing solid post defense doesn’t change.
“That’s our goal going into the games is to dominate the paint and get as many offensive rebounds as we can,” Lual-Acuil Jr. said. “Get defensive rebounds and try to shut whoever we are guarding down. Me and Mot[ley] talk about it all the time going into the game the different things we need to do. If he’s not doing something, I tell him. If I’m not doing something, he tells me. We do a good job of holding each other accountable.”
One of those key matchups for Lual-Acuil Jr. and Motley in the paint will be senior forward D.J. Johnson, who led the Wildcats with 20 points on nine of 13 shooting the first go round.
Lual-Acuil Jr. said that he not only expects a physical battle in the post with Johnson on Saturday, but every night in the Big 12.
“D.J is a great player. He plays with a lot of energy and does a good job of being physical,” Lual-Acuil Jr. said. “But most teams we play in the Big 12 are really physical so every game, you’re going into, you know you’re going to be in for a battle.”
The Bears and Wildcats will battle for the second time this season at 2 p.m Saturday in the Ferrell Center. The Big 12 matchup will air on ESPN2.