by Jerry Hill, Baylor Bear Insider
With or without the goggles he flashes after another 3-point bomb, it's hard to miss Brady Heslip.
Twitter blew up last Saturday, when Heslip drained nine 3-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points in Baylor's 80-63 win over Colorado to reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. He's a social network sensation, appearing on a Google-plus "Hangout" on Thursday, and has been labeled as the best shooter in college basketball.
The price for that kind of fame is that the 6-foot-2 sophomore guard from Burlington, Ontario has 10th-seeded Xavier (23-12) on high alert for Friday's 6:15 p.m. CDT matchup against the third-seeded Bears (29-7) in the South Region semifinals at the 35,000-seat Georgia Dome.
"I think everybody that plays him probably is aware," said Xavier coach Chris Mack, whose team is in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years. "He's lethal. It's one thing for you to be a lethal shooter, but it's another thing to have teammates who are very unselfish. They do a great job of feeing him up in the set plays they run. I have great respect for him as a player, and I certainly understand that he's a big part of why they're here."
Isn't it funny that a defense is focusing on this little hot-shooting Canadian guard instead of a towering front line of 6-11 sophomore forward Perry Jones III (13.4 points, 7.7 rebounds), 6-9 freshman Quincy Miller (11.0 points, 4.9 rebounds) and 6-7 senior Quincy Acy (11.5 points, 7.2 rebounds)?
"Any guy that can score 27 points in the NCAA tournament without dribbling, he's a really good player," said Xavier senior guard Tu Holloway, a first-team All-Atlantic 10 Conference player who's averaging 17.4 points and 4.9 assists.
"He's a great shooter, and we have to be able to chase him and make him take tough shots," said junior guard Mark Lyons, a third-team all-conference pick who's averaging 15.0 points, "because if he gets an open shot, more than likely he's going to knock it down. You've just got to be ready to chase him."
After hitting six first-half treys against Colorado, the Buffaloes went with more an aggressive defensive approach to keep the ball out of his hands. But he still made three more down the stretch to help put it away.
"My teammates were setting good screens and hitting me with good passes," said Heslip, who's averaging 10.3 points and shooting at an amazing 45.6 percent clip from outside the 3-point arc. "I didn't have to force shots. Coach wants me to shoot it. That night, they were just going in more than they usually do."
A transfer from Boston College who had to sit out last year, Heslip made 69 3-pointers during the regular season. But he's hit his stride in the postseason run, going 29-of-52 (55.8 percent) in the last five games.
"It started before the Big 12 tournament," Heslip said. "Coach (Scott Drew) told me he wanted me to be more aggressive. He didn't want me to just stand in the corner and wait for people to feed me open shots. I have to come off ball screens and move and set screens. Since the Big 12 tournament, I've been more aggressive."
One potential area of concern is the depth perception for shooters playing in a bigger arena like the Georgia Dome that seats 35,000 for basketball. No problem for Heslip. At one point during a 50-minute practice on Thursday, he made 10 in a row from outside the arc.
"I've never shot at a football field," he said. "But I've shot at so many places that I don't think it's going to make too much of a difference."
What makes this Baylor team so difficult to defend is an inside-outside balance that has all five starters averaging in double figures. Junior point guard Pierre Jackson chips in with a team-high 13.5 points and 5.8 assists, and the Bears get contributions off the bench from guards A.J. Walton, Deuce Bello and Gary Franklin and forwards Anthony Jones and Cory Jefferson.
"I think that's the biggest strength of our team," Drew said. "If people choose to take away the inside - and let's credit South Dakota State and Colorado for their great interior defense - that opens it up for our perimeter. If you're going to have a good team, you've got to have balance. And because of that, our guards had a big week. There have been other times where people have concentrated on the guards, and the front line has been able to put up big numbers... Without the front-line play, we definitely don't get two wins."
While the backcourt duo of Heslip and Jackson lifted the Bears to wins over South Dakota State and Colorado, Jones III has come under attack for scoring just nine points combined on 4-of-14 shooting from the field.
"Sometimes my shot is not falling, and I shy away from shooting it if it's not on," PJ3 said. "The best thing I can do is try to get the ball to whoever's hot in the game. If my shot's not falling, I'd rather go 1-for-7 than 1-for-20-something and we lose. I just try to do something - maybe get offensive rebounds - do whatever I can to help the team win."
Drew said he "couldn't ask for anything more" out of Jones III, who might be the most unselfish player on the team.
"He is an unbelievable teammate. He only cares about winning," Drew said. "When he gets down is when he doesn't play well and the team loses. If he doesn't play well and the team wins, he is the happiest guy in the locker room. That's just refreshing, because that doesn't happen often nowadays."
While 7-foot, 275-pound senior center Kenny Frease had a career-high 25 points to go with 12 rebounds in Xavier's 70-58 win over 15th-seeded Lehigh, Baylor's biggest concern will be trying to defend Holloway and Lyons and keep them from taking over the game.
"They're going to score, but you don't need them scoring 25 with 10 assists," Drew said of the Musketeers' talented backcourt. "It starts with those guys. They're going to make shots. Let's make sure they're all contested, make sure they're hard, not give them easies, not put them at the line, not give them freebies. And if we can do that, then hopefully the rebounding will continue like we've been able to."
One of the biggest concerns for Jackson, Heslip, Walton and Bello will stopping the guards' dribble penetration.
"That's one of the areas where I think we've gotten better is helping one another on the defensive end," Drew said. "One-on-one, it's very tough to stop either one of those guards. But if you have good help, it makes things easier. Many hands might light work."