By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - After dropping three of their last four in the regular season, all against top-10 teams, the 22nd-ranked Baylor Bears got that "losing taste out of our mouth" in Saturday's quarterfinal at the Big 12 Championship.
Motivated by playing in his last conference tournament, senior forward Taurean Prince had his ninth career double-double with 24 points and a season high-tying 13 rebounds as fifth-seeded Baylor knocked out fourth-seeded and 23rd-ranked Texas, 75-61, handing the Longhorns their first opening-game loss in 11 years.
"Anytime you're playing Texas, it means a lot to our fans and it means a lot to us, let alone it's a Big 12 tournament and you're playing for a chance to win the championship," said coach Scott Drew, whose team improved to 22-10 while picking up his 250th victory at Baylor.
Coming out aggressive on both ends, the Bears limited the Longhorns (20-12) to 38 percent shooting from the field and 5-of-16 from 3-point range and dominated the boards, 46-27, finishing with a 15-9 edge in second-chance points.
"We just wanted to come out with energy, come out flying around, give good pressure, guard the ball, play the passing lanes, just trying to do everything we could and control what we can control on the defensive end and limit their second-chance points as much as possible," said sophomore guard Al Freeman, who had 12 points, four rebounds and two assists.
With Johnathan Motley picking up two early fouls and playing just 12 minutes, the Bears got a big lift off the bench from senior Rico Gathers, who had 13 points and nine boards and hit 3-of-3 from the line. In the previous seven games, Gathers had averaged just 5.9 points and 5.1 rebounds while dealing with an ulcer.
"With that bacteria infection, Rico hasn't been himself," Drew said. "It's great getting him back with the energy, the smile, the enthusiasm, because he is a warrior, he's going to compete. Obviously when you're healthy, you play at a better level. He was huge tonight. . . . If we don't have the rebounding advantage, then we're probably not winning."
Prince started and ended a 13-1 first-half run, hitting a corner trey that gave Baylor the lead for good and completing a three-point play with a layup and follow free throw for a 19-9 lead at the 11:11 mark.
"It was all about bringing intensity and doing whatever we had to do to keep the team alive and in the moment," said Prince, who came close to a double-double by halftime with 10 points and nine rebounds.
Texas went 5 ½ minutes without scoring a bucket from the field, missing five straight from the field and four of five from the line, before freshman guard Kerwin Roach Jr. ended the drought with a 3-pointer.
Gathers had a three-point play, then Prince fed Freeman for a trey that made it a 25-12 game with 6:10 left in the half. The Longhorns trimmed a 15-point deficit down to eight with a 6-0 run late in the half, but Baylor freshman Jake Lindsey drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to push the lead back to double digits, 38-27.
Lindsey, who said he got popped in the nose going for a rebound on the previous play, had made only 2-of-14 from outside the arc this season and hadn't made a 3-pointer since the Dec. 16 win over Hardin-Simmons at Fort Hood.
"I was trying to clear my face, and then (point guard Lester Medford) hit me with a good pass," Lindsey said. "I shot it, and it went in. . . . It was relieving. I work really hard at it, and I got hurt and I was just working to get back from it. So to hit one in a key moment was nice."
Gathers said Lindsey's half-ending 3-pointer was a big momentum booster for the Bears, "especially since he had just got hit in the nose and was kind of teary-eyed. Him being able to step up and make that shot right before the half, man, that's big."
Baylor stretched the lead to 14 in the first 2 ½ minutes of the second half and went up 59-40 when Prince hit a streaking Motley with a quick outlet pass that led to a slam dunk with 11:03 left.
The Longhorns didn't go away, though, reeling off 10 answered points and getting it back to single digits when Prince Ibeh returned the favor with a dunk of his own off an offensive board.
Down the stretch, Texas hit just one of its last eight shots and never got closer than eight. Free throws by Freeman and Medford pushed the lead back to double digits and then Kansas City native Ishmail Wainright provided the exclamation point with a dunk off misses by Gathers and Prince.
"Coach (Jerome) Tang told me, `it's about time,''' said Wainright, who had eight rebounds and two blocks to go with his three points. "I was expecting TP and Rico to finish it. I just knew the ball was coming off the backboard, and I had to dunk it. I had to do something. I didn't hit a 3 today."
Baylor advances to the Big 12 tournament semifinals for the third year in a row and sixth time in the last eight years, facing top-ranked Kansas (28-4) at 6 p.m. Friday. In a Sunflower state matchup, senior forward Perry Ellis had 21 points in the Jayhawks' 85-63 drubbing of Kansas State.
"I think we're going to come out with a different intensity, because we can't lose to them three times," Motley said. "I think we're going to be ready for that one."