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BATTLE OF BALANCE: Baylor, Wisconsin Defenses Will Be Severely Tested

March 27, 2014

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Not that Nebraska and Creighton were completely one-man shows, but it at least made Scott Drew's job a little easier to game-plan for the Cornhuskers' Terran Petteway and the Bluejays' Doug McDermott.

In their toughest postseason test to date, the sixth-seeded Baylor Bears (26-11) will face the well-balanced and second-seeded Wisconsin Badgers (28-7) at 6:47 p.m. CDT Thursday in a Sweet 16 matchup at the Honda Center that will be televised by TBS.

Wisconsin, in the Sweet 16 for the sixth time under 13th-year head coach Bo Ryan, features a balanced attack with six players averaging between 9.8 and 12.7 points in Big Ten play.

For the season, 7-foot junior center Frank Kaminsky leads the way with 13.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, followed by 6-1 senior guard Ben Brust (13.0 ppg, 89 3-pointers), 6-7 sophomore forward Sam Dekker (12.7 ppg, 6.2 rebounds), 6-2 junior point guard Traevon Jackson (10.8 ppg, 3.9 assists) and 6-3 junior guard Josh Gasser (9.2 ppg, 45.6 percent from 3-point range).

"That's one of our biggest strengths, too, is we're a very balanced team," said Drew, whose team boasts four double-figure scorers in the starting lineup and eight players that have scored at least 19 in a game this season. "That makes it tough to guard, because you can't back off or sag off any of them. It's very impressive that they all shoot the 3. . . they are No. 1 in the nation in taking care of the ball, they don't turn it over. And they get to the free-throw line and they're good free-throw shooters. They're definitely a balanced and very good team."

Unlike the methodical, physical Wisconsin teams of the past, these Badgers can also get up and down the floor, averaging 73.9 points per game and making 277 3-pointers. Brust leads the way with 89 made 3-pointers, but six other players have hit double-digit treys this season.

"The more film you watch, the more you're impressed with how they got out and went and played in transition, and how they looked to score early," Drew said. "Definitely from afar, the thought process is more grind it out (for) 35 minutes; really, really patient on the offensive end. They still do that, but at the same time, they're very good in transition, and I think he's allowed his players to make plays and use their skill level and athleticism, and that's what all good coaches do. They adjust to personnel."

Baylor's zone defense essentially shut down McDermott in the Bears' 85-55 rout of third-seeded Creighton last Sunday, holding the nation's leading scorer and National Player of the Year to zero 3-pointers and just 15 points, with most of those coming when the game was already decided.

But this time, the Bears will have to contend with 3-point shooters at every spot on the floor. Even the 7-foot Kaminsky has taken 93 shots from outside the circle, making 34.

"It obviously makes them a dangerous team, but we're just going to play our basketball," said Baylor senior guard Brady Heslip. "We're going to play our defense. We're going to lock in on personnel. We're going to just guard the way we've been guarding and leave it out there."

The challenge for the Badgers is shooting over a zone defense that has Heslip and junior point guard Kenny Chery flying around up top and the length of 7-1 sophomore center Isaiah Austin and 6-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson in the middle.

"We've seen zones throughout the year with different teams in the Big Ten," said Kaminsky. "What makes Baylor's different is obviously their length. They've got Isaiah Austin the middle. He's one of the longest players we'll play all year. So, just the athletes and the length combined in their zone is going to be tough to go against."

Ryan, who is trying to take the Badgers to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005, said the Badgers have to "take what the defense gives you."

"I've seen the way they're playing it. That's simple. Put a DVD in, and you can see it," Ryan said. "But then attacking it and getting people to move a certain way and using your angles and misdirection and different things that good zone offensive teams use, we're going to have to put all those together. They have the quickness and they have the length inside to protect the rim, so that's why it's been pretty effective."

Baylor also has the kind of inside-out balance that can make it extremely tough on any defense. In the 30-point victory over Creighton, all five starters scored in double figures, led by Austin and Heslip with 17 points apiece.

Jefferson leads the way with 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but Heslip (11.9), Chery (11.5) and Austin (11.2) are all averaging double-digit points. Since returning from a turf-toe injury that forced him to miss three starts, Chery is averaging 13.7 points, 5.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds and has helped the Bears win 12 of their last 14 games.

"He does a great job of commanding the floor," Brust said of Chery. "Just his overall presence with that team has really helped after he came from back from that injury. . . . It seems like Chery steps up in the big moments."

This is as big a moment as it gets. A team that was just 14-9 overall and 2-8 in conference seven weeks ago, Baylor is now two wins away from making it back to Texas for the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

It would be the Bears' second trip to the Dallas Cowboys' home stadium. They defeated a then No. 3 Kentucky team, 67-62, on Dec. 6 in the nightcap of a doubleheader with the women's teams.

"Our guys definitely know where the Final Four is being played," Drew said, "and it's a dream of every college athlete to make a Final Four. But when it's in your home state, it's even a little more special. I know that's something that's motivated our guys throughout the year."

Top-seeded and fifth-ranked Arizona (32-4) faces fourth-seeded and No. 13 San Diego State (31-4) in the other West Region semifinal at 9:17 p.m. CDT Thursday, with the winners meeting on Saturday for a berth in the Final Four.

"We just want to bring it back to Texas," Austin said. "We want to earn respect, because people aren't going to give it to us. It seems like we have to win a national championship in order to get respect, and that's what we want to do."

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