THIS ONE'S FOR GRANDPA: Bears Hold On to Upset #17 Oklahoma, 78-73March 14, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Even though his Baylor teammates "had my back" and told Isaiah Austin he could sit out Thursday's Big 12 Championship quarterfinal against Oklahoma, the 7-foot-1 sophomore center wanted to "play for him."
Just hours before Wednesday's opening-round game against TCU, Austin got the news that his grandfather, Joe, had passed away after a long illness.
"It's great to know that he passed in his sleep, and he didn't have to suffer anymore," Austin said. "My grandfather was one of my biggest fans, and I know he's up there watching me now."
Grandpa Joe had to like what he saw Thursday night.
In arguably his best game of the season, Austin was an efficient 8-of-12 from the field and finished with 18 points, five rebounds, five blocks and a pair of assists as the seventh-seeded Bears held on to beat second-seeded and 17th-ranked Oklahoma, 78-73, at the Sprint Center.
"A lot more happier coach today from the standpoint that I thought our guys really defended a lot better," said Baylor head coach Scott Drew, referencing the Bears' defensive lapses in Wednesday's 76-68 win over TCU. "But it all starts with taking care of the ball. Again, we shoot 50 percent for a reason: shared the ball and got high-percentage shots. But I'm really, really proud of how these guys competed today."
Baylor (23-10), which let most of a 21-point second-half lead slip away, held on to win for the ninth time in its last 10 games and set up an 8:30 p.m. semifinal matchup on Friday against No. 3 seed Texas (23-9) The Longhorns blew out sixth-seeded West Virginia, 66-49, in the last quarterfinal of the night.
"You think about a team that was picked one of the top three teams in the league," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "They've won nine out of 10 and playing great basketball at the right time."
The first 23 minutes might have been the best the Bears have played all year. After streaking out to a 10-0 lead, they dominated from tip to buzzer in the first half, taking a seemingly comfortable 47-31 lead into the break.
"That's when we're at our best, when we're sharing the ball, when everybody gets touches" said junior point guard Kenny Chery, who had 12 points and seven assists. "Isaiah, Cory (Jefferson), Rico (Gathers), TP (Taurean Prince, Royce (O'Neale), you could get passes from anybody. And that's the type of team we are. That's playing Baylor basketball."
In sweeping the season series, the Sooners (23-9) delivered the first blow and got out to big early leads. This time, though, it was Baylor that got the first shots in.
Brady Heslip helped the Bears get out of the gate in a hurry, knocking down a 3-pointer and then picking Je'lon Hornbeak's pocket and feeding Jefferson for an authoritative dunk and a 10-point lead. Austin had all five of his blocks by halftime, swatting away five shots and helping hold the Sooners to just 38.7 percent shooting from the field in the first half (12-of-31).
Apparently seeing the errors of its ways, OU rarely ventured inside the paint in the second half and would routinely kick out for 3-pointers when Austin was standing there waiting.
"I think they changed their game plan a little bit from the first half," Austin said, "because we were blocking shots and contesting a lot of those shots and not giving them anything easy. Really, in the second half, they just wanted to drive and get me out there, so they could kick it out for an easy 3."
That's actually how the second half started, only it was Austin burying a long-distance trey off an assist from Chery. And then Chery fed him again for an alley-oop dunk that gave the Bears their largest lead of the night, 52-31, with 17:03 left in the game.
"We've had some stretches," said Drew, when asked if those first 23 minutes were Baylor's best basketball of the season. "We've played pretty well in the last 10 games, and early in the year there were some stretches we played real well. I know it's the best we played against Oklahoma, that's for sure."
But the Sooners weren't ready to throw in the towel.
Cameron Clark hit back-to-back jumpers and a dunk that turned into a 13-2 run, as the Sooners pulled back within single digits, 56-47.
Baylor pushed the lead back to 13 and seemed to have things in control going into the last five minutes. But again, OU made a push, making it a four-point game, 72-68, when Buddy Hield drilled his third 3-pointer of the night.
"We knew it was going to be a fight to the very end," said O'Neale, who posted his second straight double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. "We just had to stay together and take care of the ball."
O'Neale didn't do that on the Bears' ensuing possession. Trapped at midcourt by the Sooners' press, he launched a deep pass that sailed over Gary Franklin and nearly into the stands.
Baylor and OU fans alike were on their feet when point guard Jordan Woodard lined up an open 3-pointer from the wing, with a chance to pull within one. But when his shot was off the mark, Austin grabbed the rebound, and O'Neale and Heslip took care of the rest by knocking down six straight free throws in the last 54 seconds.
"I didn't get nervous at all," Chery said. "I've got confidence in my teammates. All we had to do was make adjustments (against OU's press), and that's exactly what we did when we came out of the timeout."
The Bears advance to the Big 12 Championship semifinals for the third time in the last six years and fifth time overall.
Drew also picked up his 201st win in 11 seasons at Baylor, tying the school record set by Mr. Bill Henderson.
"I think it means that we've had a lot of good players, and they've all played for Baylor University and represented it the right way," Drew said. "I think any coaching honor is a direct reflection of the players, because none of us coaches have made any buckets. So, it's all the players' work."
Here is a link to the boxscore from Thursday's Baylor-Oklahoma men's basketball game.
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