By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer
No. 18 Baylor men’s basketball hosts No. 12 Arizona on Saturday during one of the biggest weekends in Baylor sports history.
The game will feature a huge matchup between lottery prospect Nico Mannion and the Bears’ plethora of guards.
The Wildcat point guard is averaging 15.3 points and 5.8 assists per game while shooting 61.1% eFG. He is consistently ranked among the best in the upcoming draft and will be a true test for Baylor’s backcourt.
Between the starting three-headed monster of guards and a pretty good defensive front court in senior Freddie Gillespie and junior Mark Vital, the Baylor defense will be a handful for Mannion. Head coach Scott Drew said it’s an exciting game for more than just one guy.
“Nico is somebody a lot of people talk about,” Drew said. “He does a great job running their team, but they’ve got a good team. There’s a reason there’s close to 30 NBA scouts here.”
This isn’t the first big game Baylor’s had this season. They’ve already played No. 22 Washington and beaten No. 23 Villanova on neutral courts this season. Sophomore guard Jared Butler said those games have prepared them for any level of play this season.
“I think it definitely builds our confidence going into other big-time games,” Butler said. “We know what to expect. We know the environment and the pace the game’s going to be at. Playing those three games early really helped us.”
Last year, the Bears had the No. 75 defense in the country as they balanced themselves with the No. 20 offense. Now they field the No. 34 defense bolstered by the No. 10 offense in the country. Gillespie said the team prides itself on its effort on the defensive end.
“We have a lot of on-ball defenders, help defenders, shot blockers — a lot of defensive weapons,” Gillespie said. “I think it’s starting to become our identity.”
Both teams are currently ranked in KenPom’s Top 20, and Arizona runs the floor the most out of any team Baylor has played. Drew said that the Wildcats are going to be a great opponent to have come to town.
“It’ll be two Top 25 teams and an opportunity for someone to get a quality win,” Drew said. “When you play these teams on your home court, you’ve got to protect your home court.”
The Bears will face Arizona at 11 a.m. Saturday in Waco. Coincidentally, the Big 12 Championship game is also being played in Arlington at the same time.
The Ferrell Center will play a live feed of the football game at halftime, and spectators can also go to the Stone Room after the basketball game to watch. Drew laughed as he said that Baylor fans have a choice to make.
“You’ve got two options. You can either be at the football game or be at the basketball game,” Drew said. “We don’t care which one, but you’re wearing green and gold at one hopefully.”