MAKING RUN AT HISTORY: Heslip, Jefferson Lead Bears Over Texas, 86-69March 15, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Like football counterpart Art Briles, Scott Drew has crossed a lot of bridges and knocked down a few doors in 11 years at Baylor.
Now, he's one win away from adding the school's first Big 12 championship in men's basketball.
Controlling the game from the opening tip to the final buzzer, the Bears continued their phenomenal run by dominating third-seeded Texas, 86-69, Friday night to earn a spot opposite 16th-ranked Iowa State in Saturday's 8 p.m. Big 12 Championship final at the Sprint Center.
"(Iowa State is) a team that can win a national championship," said Drew, who became the school's all-time winningest coach with his 202nd victory, passing Bill Henderson (201, 1941-61). "So, you're playing for a Big 12 championship in the best conference in the country. It's a great honor and privilege, and we're going to give it all we've got and see how things turn out."
To say that things have turned out well for the Bears (24-10) at the Big 12 tournament would be a huge understatement. After winning seven of their previous eight coming into this week, they opened with a 76-68 win over 10th-seeded TCU, got by second-seeded and 17th-ranked Oklahoma, 78-73, and then blew out the Longhorns to reach the tournament final for the third time in six years.
Baylor is trying to become the first team in the tournament's 18-year history to win four games in four days. The 2009 Bears made it to the finals as a No. 9 seed, but lost to Missouri, 73-60, and then lost to the Tigers again in 2012, 85-70.
"I just want to win a championship with these guys, with this team," said senior guard Brady Heslip, who hit 6-of-11 from 3-point range and scored a season high-tying 24 points. "The first time (in 2012), it was an amazing experience, but now it's the second time. And we're not just here for the experience, we're here to perform. So, when tomorrow night comes, the only thing we're thinking about is winning."
After getting swept by Texas (23-10) in the season series, including their only loss in the last month, the Bears looked like they had that single-minded focus from the very start on Friday.
With 6-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson scoring all of his team's first nine points, Baylor jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the first 4 ½ minutes. And other than a 63-second lapse when the Longhorns went up 10-9 on an inside bucket by Connor Lammert, the Bears led the rest of the way.
"Texas has great bigs, and they're one of the top in the country in blocking shots," said Jefferson, who had 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks for his third straight double-double and seventh in the last 10 games. "Knowing that, we just know that we've got to attack their shot blockers. Once you do that, it makes it harder for them to actually block a shot."
Isaiah Austin, who finished with 10 points, seven blocks and five boards, gave Baylor the lead for good with a baseline jumper that put the Bears on top, 11-10, with 14:07 left in the first half.
While Baylor used a packed-in zone defense that effectively limited the touches for Texas' front line of Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes, the Bears had their way on the offensive end.
Using an inside-out attack, Baylor shot 47.1 percent in the first half and buried seven 3-pointers to take a 42-27 lead into the break.
"Early in the game, even when they were scoring, those were the kinds of shots we wanted them to score with," said Texas coach Rick Barnes. Brady hadn't hurt us in a long time. . . . I think it has a direct result, because we were letting our offense dictate how we were playing on the defensive end. I think it bothered us, I really believe that. And you can't let that happen."
Freshman Martez Walker gave the Longhorns a boost, knocking down a 3-pointer that made it a three-point game, 21-18, with less than nine minutes left in the half. But then Royce O'Neale and Heslip drilled back-to-back 3-pointers for the answer, and Kenny Chery drained another one in the final seconds to give the Bears a 15-point cushion.
The difference, though, from Baylor's 2-8 start in conference play to winning 10 of its last 11, is on the defensive end, Heslip said.
"When Kenny and I and Gary (Franklin) and the guards who play the top set the tone with ball pressure and we're flying around giving max effort," Heslip said, "then the bigs are going to give max effort. And Isaiah in the middle has just been an anchor, just ridiculous, erasing every guard that gets in there when we happen to let them drive. And I think that has transferred over to our offense. When we play better defense, we play better offense."
Even with the Bears seemingly in cruise control and trying to milk the clock on every possession, they stretched the lead to 70-46 on Heslip's fifth 3-pointer of the night with 6:32 left.
Texas turned up the heat with a press and made things at least a little interesting, getting to within 79-67 with 1:40 showing on the clock. But the Longhorns would get no closer, with the Bears closing it out by hitting seven of their last eight free throws in the final 1:34 of the game.
Point guard Javan Felix, who lit up the Bears for 21 points in a 74-69 Texas win two weeks earlier, took just four shots in 22 minutes and missed his only two 3-point attempts. Isaiah Taylor led the Longhorns with 16 points, while guards Kendal Yancy and Walker had 12 and 10 points, respectively, off the bench.
Texas' front line of Ridley and Holmes had six points apiece and were a combined 6-for-16 from the floor.
"I think they had a really good game, offensively and defensively, but it's nothing that we haven't gone against every day in practice," said Holmes, who was 3-for-12. "Give them credit. We didn't execute on offense, and we didn't keep them off the boards on defense. So, they were tougher than us tonight."
Despite playing its third game in as many days, Baylor also looked like the fresher team and got better balance. While Jefferson and Austin combined for 30 points, 18 boards and 13 blocks, Heslip and Chery pumped in 34 points and nine 3-pointers.
The Bears also got solid production from O'Neale, who had eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals, finishing two points shy of his third straight double-double.
With fourth-seeded Iowa State (25-7) advancing to the final as well, this will be the first time in the league's history that one of the top three seeds doesn't win the tournament. The Cyclones got by top-seeded and 10th-ranked Kansas, 94-83, behind a 25-point outing from forward Georges Niang.
In addition to Niang, who is averaging 16.6 points and 4.3 rebounds, Iowa State features a pair of All-Big 12 picks in Player of the Year Melvin Ejim (18.4 ppg, 8.5 rebounds) and 6-4 senior guard Deandre Kane, a transfer from Marshall who is averaging 17 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
"It's going to mean a lot to me, just playing for the championship," Jefferson said. "We'll be the first team from Baylor to bring back the Big 12 (trophy)."
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