By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
The undefeated No. 5 men’s basketball team is headed to the Continental Tire Main Event in Vegas for a matchup against No. 16 University of Virginia and potentially another ranked opponent. The reigning Big 12 champs are 3-0 so far this season and look to carry this momentum into its first test of the 2022 season.
“I’m excited, we’ve already played some good teams, but this is a whole new level of basketball,” junior forward Caleb Lohner said. “So, going out there and playing some high level games is going to be good for us in a lot of ways.”
This is the quickest the Bears have faced a ranked opponent in the season since their matchup with then-No. 4 University of Oregon in 2016. In the past three seasons, Baylor is 22-6 against ranked opponents and 13-4 against those teams away from home. Of its last 20 contests on neutral grounds, its won 18. Junior guard LJ Cryer said he and the team are ready to play the tough competition ahead.
“Top-25 teams, we’re really amped up to play those teams and looking forward to going out there and winning,” Cryer said. “I haven’t looked at [Virgina] very much this season; we haven’t started scouting them yet. We’ll look at them today, and we’ll get to know more about them when we watch film.”
Cryer led the team in scoring in its last outing, scoring a season-high 20 points after having a tough game prior.
“It felt good,” Cryer said. “My teammates found me and I was able to make shots. The game before, it was a rough one for me, so of course there’s a confidence booster. I just try to have the next game mentality. Try not to ever get too high or too low.”
Cryer said the defensive side of the ball has been a point of emphasis for the team thus far and that they are always looking to improve on that end of the floor.
“I feel like we preached getting kills, so trying to get three stops in a row,” Cryer said. “We have been getting better at that. We are just trying to, like I said before, put together defensive stops consecutively and then crash the glass. Coach [Drew] has been telling the guards that we need to get more rebounds, so myself, Adam [Flagler], Keyonte [George], we’ve all been trying to poke our heads in there and get some boards.”
A potential matchup with No. 19 University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is on the Vegas slate, which would mean a reunion with former fan-favorite fifth-year senior guard Matthew Mayer, who played with the Bears for four years and was a part of the 2021 national title run. Also on that roster, redshirt sophomore forward Dain Dainja, who redshirted for the Bears during that same title run and transferred early the following season. Cryer said it’ll be weird to see his former teammates in any uniform that isn’t green and gold.
“Most definitely, because Matt has been here since I first got here,” Cryer said. “Matt has been a good teammate. Dain Dainja was my roommate, so it’ll definitely feel weird to see him in a different uniform, but I’ll be happy to see those guys. Maybe we’ll play them. Who knows?”
Baylor will compete against UVA Friday at 6 p.m. CT at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN2. Then, depending on results between the two matches, the Bears will face either No. 8 University of California, Los Angeles or Illinois at either 2 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. on Sunday on ESPN.