THANKS FOR THE CHARITY: Huskers' Fouls Help Bears Pull Away for 74-60 WinMarch 22, 2014
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Tennis player Andre Agassi once stated that "style is everything." Thankfully, it's not.
Other than a few highlight-reel dunks, Baylor got no style points in Friday's NCAA tournament game against former Big 12 rival Nebraska. The Bears shot barely 40 percent from the field (17-of-42), made only 2-of-13 from outside the 3-point arc and had four straight turnovers in a rough closing stretch.
And none of that really matters.
Taking full advantage of the 31 fouls and two technicals called against the 11th-seeded Cornhuskers, Baylor was a lights-out 38-of-48 from the free-throw line and coasted to a 74-60 win before a crowd of 12,895 at the AT&T Center.
"No matter how you get it - pretty, ugly, nasty - this time of the year, it's all about surviving and advancing," said Baylor head coach Scott Drew, who is now 7-3 in NCAA tournament play. "So, we're definitely pleased with the way. No matter how well you play, there is always something you can work on. Usually, coaches try to find that, too. We're just excited to be able to work on something and play again on Sunday."
The sixth-seeded and 23rd-ranked Bears (25-11) advance to face third-seeded and 16th-ranked Creighton (27-7) at 6:40 p.m. Sunday, with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line. Creighton was pushed by 14th-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette, but got 30 points from All-American Doug McDermott and pulled away late for a 76-66 win over the Ragin' Cajuns.
"As we've seen the last couple days, a lot of crazy things have happened in this tournament," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. "You've just got to survive and advance. . . . These guys have been in this position before. They desperately wanted to get back and have an opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16. I'm proud of the fact that they were able to do that."
While the Bluejays trailed midway through the second half and didn't shake Louisiana until the last couple minutes, Baylor took control early and was rarely challenged by a Nebraska team that remained winless in the NCAA tournament (0-7) and was making its first appearance in 16 years.
"First-time guys, you probably do have some jitters. That's normal," Drew said. "But normally after one minute, that goes away, and it's all about executing and following the game plan."
Baylor certainly did nothing to hide its game plan. Playing against a much smaller Cornhusker team, the Bears did everything through 7-1 sophomore center Isaiah Austin, 6-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson and 6-8 sophomore Rico Gathers, a trio that combined for 40- points, 20 rebounds and a pair of blocks.
And even when they didn't finish, they were drawing fouls. Nebraska had three players foul out and also lost head coach Tim Miles, who was hit with two technical fouls in a stretch of 2 ½ minutes and was ejected with 11:17 left in the game.
"I didn't want an unfair competitive advantage. The same contact here should be the same contact there," Miles said. "So, if it's a foul here, it should be a foul there. But, officiating is not what did us in."
Part of what did in the Cornhuskers (19-13) was abysmal first-half shooting. They missed nine of their first 10 shots against Baylor's zone, had a nine-minute drought from the field and were 0-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half, falling behind, 29-16.
"They kind of got us off the attack," said sophomore forward Shavon Shields, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds. "We were shooting a lot of outside jumpers and looked really stagnant and kind of lost on offense. I think them taking away our aggressiveness kind of affected us on the defensive end. We were fouling way too much, so they just took us out of anything or any rhythm we could get going."
It wasn't like the Bears were exactly lighting it up. They were 7-of-21 from the floor in the first half and led by just seven, 14-7, at the midway point despite Nebraska's shooting woes.
"We just had some off-and-on spurts where we were crisp at times and sometimes we were like, 'Gosh, what are we doing?''' said senior guard Brady Heslip, who was 10-of-10 from the line and finished with 12 points. "I think it's good to get it out of our system, get a win under our belt; and now we can just move forward."
Heslip gave the Bears their first double-digit lead with a pair of free throws, and then Royce O'Neale fed Gathers for a dunk that pushed it to 23-11. Gary Franklin nailed the only first-half 3-pointer for either team, as the bench scored 15 points and helped Baylor take a 13-point lead into the locker room.
"That's where you have to have depth," Drew said. "I know we got to the free-throw line a lot, and that's one thing that favors us is when you have to go to the bench, because we believe in our depth."
Nebraska's offense was much more efficient in the second half, when the Cornhuskers shot 60.7 percent from the field (17-of-28) and scored 44 points. They hit their first six shots and pulled to within 38-29 on a 3-pointer by Roy Gallegos at the 14:33 mark.
But that's when things started to turn.
When leading scorer Terran Petteway was whistled for his fourth foul 39 seconds later, an irate Miles was also tagged with a technical foul. Four straight free throws by Austin and Kenny Chery gave the Bears their 13-point lead back.
Less than three minutes later, Miles noticed the shot clock wasn't running and stormed near the half-court line to confront the shot-clock operator. But it happened to be the same time that Leslee Smith was whistled for a foul.
Thinking that Miles was on the court to complain about the foul call, referee Karl Hess issued a second technical, resulting in an automatic ejection. Hess acknowledged the shot-clock error is issuing a prepared statement, but said Miles was handed the second technical because of an NCAA rule that prohibits "inciting undesirable crowd reactions" and certain conduct while objecting to an official's call.
"What do you do?" Miles said. "I mean, the shot clock doesn't run for, I don't know, seven or eight seconds. . . . I just wanted them to stop the game and get the shot clock right."
Again, the Bears made them pay at the line, hitting six straight free throws and extending the lead to 52-32.
"It's easy. You foul us, we're going to make two free throws," Heslip said. "It was physical, but I think they did a pretty good job of calling fouls. We had them in the bonus early in both halves. So, obviously, this is not Big Ten basketball. The refs are going to call the hand checks."
Not that it's always been easy for the Bears. They came in shooting just 67.3 percent from the line, a problem that cost them in some close losses during a 2-8 start in conference.
"You love when your guys work and it pays off," Drew said. "I'm not going to comment about it, because the last time I did, we were perfect against TCU, and it didn't go so well after that. But, I'm proud of the guys today."
Baylor had a 20-point lead with less than five minutes to play, but the Bears turned it over four times in an 11-0 run that got the Cornhuskers back within nine, 62-53, on a Shields dunk with 2:45 left. Similar to wins against Oklahoma and Texas at the Big 12 Championship, the Bears struggled to close.
Drew calls them "teaching moments."
"Isaiah lost a pass where it should have gotten a dunk, and then Cory lost one," he said. "We had some plays where if you complete them, it just keeps the momentum going. We did have some spacing issues (against Nebraska's full-court press). We'll address those. . . . The good thing is hopefully we're in that situation again, so we can show that we worked on it."
Jefferson led the way with 16 points and six boards, while Austin chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds, helping Baylor dominate the boards, 37-25. The Bears also finished with a 10-2 edge in second-chance points.
Baylor will face a different kind of test against Creighton and National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott, who played on the USA Basketball team with Jefferson at last year's World University Games in Russia.
"They're a great team, they're long," McDermott said. "I know a couple guys from Iowa State that emphasize their length, how frustrating it can be. . . . We don't have guys on our scout team that are 7-1 with a 7-foot wing snap, but we'll try to get a good look."
Drew issued a challenge to Baylor Nation for Sunday's game, saying:
"We need you down here. We need to fill this stadium. . . . I think a lot of Baylor Nation probably had work or things they couldn't get off for (on Friday). But I'd be disappointed if there's not a lot more green and gold on Sunday."
Here is a link to the boxscore from Friday's Baylor-Nebraska.
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