By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Scott Drew has to have a little bit of that déjà vu feeling with back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Creighton.
In a rematch of a 2014 NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game dominated by Wisconsin, 69-52, the 22nd-ranked Baylor Bears (4-0) saw a 19-point lead whittled down to just two before holding on for a 70-65 win over the Badgers (2-2) Monday night in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City, Mo.
Now, they get an undefeated Creighton team (4-0) in Tuesday's 9 p.m. championship game at the Sprint Center. The Bluejays, who were drilled by Baylor, 85-55, in a second-round matchup in 2014, defeated No. 23 UCLA, 100-89, in Monday's other semifinal after winning at then-No. 20 Northwestern, 92-88, last Wednesday.
"Creighton's got a great turnout here," Drew said of the Omaha, Nebraska-based team, which is roughly three hours from Kansas City. "When we come to the Big 12 tournament, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State normally have a lot of fans up here. So, this will prepare us for what we'll see. We have a lot of respect for (Creighton coach Doug McDermot), so we know we'll be a better team after (Tuesday's) game."
One thing the Bears will need to work on is closing out games. They were up 38-26 at halftime of Monday's game against Wisconsin and stretched it to 53-34 on a Mark Vital rebound and putback about nine minutes into the second half.
"We really played a great first half and a pretty good 10 minutes of the second half," Drew said. "And then we couldn't buy a bucket for a while. We got stuck on 57, and I was getting ready to go to the scorer's table and move it to 58."
Wisconsin, a Final Four team in 2014 that has made it to the last 18 NCAA tournaments, faced a double-digit deficit barely six minutes into the game when Manu Lecomte hit back-to-back treys to put the Bears up, 14-4.
"As they say, if you want to get out of a hole, stop digging," said Wisconsin coach Greg Gard.
Senior center Jo Lual-Acuil scored 16 of his career-high 19 points in the first half, hitting 6-of-8 from the floor. The Bears shot 56 percent as a team in the first half (14-of-25) and took a 38-26 lead into the locker room when Lual-Acuil nailed his second 3-pointer and freshman Tristan Clark followed up with a slam dunk off a steal and dish from Lecomte.
"The good thing about Manu is if he's not scoring, he is a point guard," Drew said. "And if they put two on him, he does a great job finding somebody else. He really got Jo off to a great start early and helped him to get that 19 (points) and 10 (rebounds), because he was so effective getting him the ball early."
The second half was a different story. Baylor shot just 25 percent from the field, didn't make a 3-pointer (0-for-3) and the Bears' last field goal was a Lecomte jumper at the 8:43 mark when they were still leading by 14. Of the last eight shots they missed, two of them were layup attempts by Clark and Jake Lindsey and another was a floater in the lane by Lecomte.
"We played really well for 30 minutes, and then all of a sudden somebody put a lid on the basket and we couldn't make layups," Drew said. "If you can make no field goals in the last 8:30 and shoot 25 percent in the second half and still win, you must be playing some defense."
Baylor won the rebounding battle, 39-32, and held the Badgers to just 13-of-34 shooting from the field in the second half (38.2 percent).
Freshman guard Brad Davison returned from a shoulder injury to spark Wisconsin's late rally, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws and feeding Ethan Happ for a layup in a 21-4 run that got it back to 57-55 with 2:16 left to play.
"It's what we need to do to start the game," said Happ, a returning All-American who finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds. "We need to get guys to realize, myself included, that it's got to be a dog fight from the very start. And that's what we turned it into was just scrapping, getting all the loose balls and working on the offensive glass. That has to be all 40 minutes and not just the last 10."
It was Lecomte's dead-eye free-throw shooting that saved the day. One of the best in the country at 93.9 percent (31-of-33), he hit 10-of-11 down the stretch and 13-of-15 for the game, finishing with 24 points, five assists and two steals.
Now, the Bears get an up-tempo Creighton team led by 6-3 senior guard Marcus Foster, a Kansas State transfer who is averaging 20.3 points.
"It looks like he's trimmed down, he looks a lot faster than he was in the Big 12," Drew said of Foster. "He always had great games against us in the Big 12, so we know what he's capable of. I know it's going to be a fast-paced game. We like to get out and go. I think we've got a seven-second break, they've got a six-second, so it shows you how fast they are."
Baylor advanced to the champion game of a regular-season tournament for the fourth time in the last five years. The Bears are 29-11 overall in regular-season tournaments during the Drew era, winning the 2007 Paradise Jam, the 2011 Las Vegas Classic and last year's Battle 4 Atlantis.