By Jerry Hill, Baylor Bear Insider
The Downtown Canadian's goggles-flashing 3-pointers kept the Baylor Bears in Saturday's game against an upset-minded Colorado Buffaloes.
But it was a coaching move late in the game by Scott Drew that helped Baylor (29-7) set a school record for wins and move on to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years.
Brady Heslip was an overnight sensation on Twitter with his unconscious 3-point shooting - 9-of-12 from beyond the arc - but it was a stifling zone defense that put away the Buffs for good as Baylor closed on a 26-6 run and pulled away for an 80-63 win before a crowd of 12,218 at The Pit.
"Heslip was the difference. He was unconscious tonight," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said of the sophomore transfer from Canada, who set career highs with nine 3-pointers and 27 points. "They run good stuff to get him open. Nate (Tomlinson) really guarded it well. I mean, he made some tough shots. But he was the difference in the game, there was no question about it: Brady Heslip and their 17 offensive rebounds."
Avoiding an upset trend that saw a pair of No. 2 seeds and a No. 4 get knocked out in the first round, the Bears advance to the NCAA Championship South Regional in Atlanta, Ga., and will face the winner of Sunday's game between 15th-seeded Lehigh and 10th-seeded Xavier. The South Region semifinals and final will be held Friday and Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
"The first time we went, it was fun, especially with it being in my hometown of Houston," senior Anthony Jones said of the Bears' Elite Eight appearance in 2010. "This time is even better, because this is my last time playing college basketball. This is my last year, so it's even sweeter."
Heslip got cranked up early, coming off a screen to bury a 3-pointer just 18 seconds into the game. But Baylor's former Big 12 rivals from Colorado (24-12) weren't about to go away without a fight.
The Buffs shot a sizzling 56.5 percent from the floor (13-of-23) in the first half and trailed by just two points, 37-35, despite Heslip's six first-half treys.
"If you look at the numbers in the first half, we shot 56 percent, they shot 34 percent, but we're down two, because they had 12 offensive rebounds," Boyle said. "We knew that was going to be the key to the game, and we just couldn't get it done on the boards. They're long, they're athletic and they're physical. We just didn't get it done tonight."
After scoring 18 points in the first half, Heslip didn't even get a shot off in the first nine minutes of the second half as Colorado switched its defense to smother him at every turn.
Baylor scored three quick buckets, including a slam dunk by Perry Jones III off an alley-oop pass from Pierre Jackson, to go up by eight, 43-35, in the first minute of the second half.
But the Buffs answered with a 19-8 run and went up, 54-51, on a free throw by Askia Booker with 11:12 left in the game. When Heslip finally ended his drought with another goggles-flashing 3-pointer, Booker answered with a trey of his own to put Colorado back up by three, 57-54.
That was right about the time when Drew made the switch from a man-to-man defense to the zone, totally baffling the Buffs.
"That's the advantage of having a great coach," said Acy, who had seven points and 10 rebounds. "The zone, I think it really bothered them, and I think it was unexpected. When we started out in man, they got comfortable. But then we switched the zone, and it really threw them for a loop. We did a good job of flying everywhere. Whatever defense we choose to play, if the guys buy into it, I think we'll be successful."
"Coach saw something in their offense that he felt we could go zone," Anthony Jones said. "The zone kind of rattled them and got them out of their rhythm and got them out of their game. So credit that to coach Drew."
When Austin Dufault hit a jumper with 7:46 left, it was still a one-point game, with the Bears up, 61-60. But three and a half minutes and four straight 3-pointers later, Baylor had stretched it out to a 75-60 lead.
Jackson started a 14-0 run with a layup, then it was Heslip, Jackson, Heslip again and Anthony Jones knocking down shots from outside the 3-point arc to put this one out of reach.
"It was just one of those nights," Heslip said. "When they set great screens and they make passes that are on target and on time, it just makes it easy for me, especially if I'm in rhythm and feeling good shooting."
"Brady was obviously on fire," Drew said, "but his teammates did a great job of getting him the ball. Brady's one of the first to tell you my teammates really get me open and got me the ball. The humility is what makes our team successful."
On the defensive end, the zone forced four turnovers in that closing stretch as the confused Buffs had no answer. Instead of attacking the zone, the Colorado players became passive and passed it around on the perimeter until the shot clock ran down, no one willing to pull the trigger.
"We're not a team of excuses, so we're not going to say that's the reason," Colorado guard Carlon Brown said of a stretch when the Buffaloes played six games in 10 days. "We just didn't make shots when we needed to make shots. We turned the ball over so many times in key moments of the game. Really, that zone stifled us. We just didn't have it. No excuses."
While Heslip scored a game-high 27 points, Jackson overcame a poor first half (two points, four turnovers) to post a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds to go with five steals and three rebounds.
"Pierre's penetration and ball handling has bothered a lot of people," Drew said. "He missed a lot of shots tonight that he normally doesn't miss. But to have 10 assists is outstanding. Five steals, he just does so much stuff. When he turns it over, there is a good chance he steals it back before they get it down the court, anyway."
Seniors Acy and Anthony Jones combined for 15 points and 13 rebounds, while Quincy Miller had eight points, five boards and two blocks in that closing stretch.
"I was just trying to do anything to help the team. I couldn't hit anything, so I had to do something," Miller said.
The Bears also got good contributions off the bench with four points and four rebounds apiece from A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello. Both of Bello's buckets came off offensive boards, as Baylor won the rebounding battle, 41-28, and scored 16 second-chance points off 17 offensive rebounds.
"That is the biggest challenge we've had all year as a coaching staff," Drew said. "We have a lot of depth and a lot of options. That's been tough for us because when we play certain lineups, we play a certain style. When we play other lineups, we play a certain style. Credit the leadership to the team, because very easily it could have been about me, myself and I. And if it is, then none of that works and your depth becomes your biggest weakness rather than your biggest strength."