As the grand clock struck double zero as the capacity crowd at the Ferrell Center exploded, the Baylor Bears earned their fifth straight victory, their third straight home victory over the Kansas Jayhawks and another statement for the college basketball world. They didn’t go anywhere, but the bears are back.
Not bad for a team that had the Big 12 season on life support in less than two weeks.
There are still issues for the Bears to work on. They went another seven minutes in the second half and didn’t score a field goal, and it’s a concern that a team with as many shot-creating guards as possible couldn’t shorten the game with a half-court offense. To see a victory. However, almost no one cares outside of their own facility, which is perfect. Sports is about enjoying the good while the good is good, and the Baylor Bears are good.
The Bears are so good that they have won 12 of their last 13 games against AP Top 10 opponents, a Division I record. By any measure, that gives fans some confidence heading into the Big 12 Gauntlet and the NCAA Tournament.
Wins are the most important metric, but how Baylor wins these games is more telling. These Bears are finally starting to win games the way their fans thought they would. It’s still a high-volume three-point shooting team, but one that plays dogged defense, gets their hands in passing lanes, muscle groups off the board and pushes the opponent into the bonus.
Shoot, it wasn’t even two media moments before Kansas coach Bill Self admitted his team had its second-best Monday.
Throughout the year, the Bears lost more basketballs against tougher competition. In their first three conference games, the Bears gave up over 75 points in each (two games over 85) and fell to a shocking 0-3 in Big 12 play.
In its five games since, Baylor has held teams under 68 points per game. Likewise, they haven’t lost the rebounding battle in any game, held each opponent to under 48% shooting and forced more turnovers than they’ve surrendered in the last three games.
Their elite guard play is also showing up in winning ways as there seems to be a new backcourt hero every night. Keonte George started the game with a game-high 32 points at West Virginia, Adam Flagler hit a fadeaway three to seal Saturday’s win over Oklahoma and LJ Cryer scored 19 first-half points before Langston Love had 11 of his own against Kansas. It helped him become one of several Bears defensive tackles in the second half and the win.
Bayer is still living with the three-point shot, more than the last four teams did, but they are doing everything better than two weeks ago.
As they mostly switch to the matchup zone, their ball defense is vastly improved, they’re winning the turnover battle and most importantly, they suddenly look like one of the best rebounding teams in the conference when it comes to the NCAA tournament.
George’s defense has gotten better every game, Krier has matured as a shot creator, and Jalen Bridges and Flo Tamba are becoming masters of their realm, in the paint.
Yes, the Bears still have parts of their game that need to be improved, but Monday’s win was the closest Baylor has seen all year for Scott Drew’s defense and they are starting to look like a team that will contend for the playoffs in April. one more time.
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