WACO, Texas — For No. 20 Texas, winning a third game in a row over an opponent ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 would be a well-earned victory as head coach Chris Beard and the Longhorns take on 10th-ranked Baylor, traveling to the Ferrell Center to battle the reigning national champions on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN2). Texas (18-6, 7-4 Big 12) is fresh off of a thrilling 79-76 win over No. 8 Kansas on Monday while Baylor (12-4, 8-3) used a strong second-half performance to pull away from Kansas State on Wednesday, 75-60.
The Longhorns enter the weekend in a tie with ninth-ranked Texas Tech (18-6, 7-4) for third place in the Big 12 standings while head coach Scott Drew and the Bears are a game back of the Jayhawks (19-4, 8-2) in the loss column. Beard as Texas right where he wants the program in the first year of his tenure and every year thereafter, which is to be in the fight battling it out for a conference title and with Saturday’s game marking the first of two meetings with Baylor in 16 days (the Longhorns also host the Red Raiders on Feb. 19 and end the regular season with a trip to Kansas on March 5), there are opportunities make a run at a championship.
With that said, Beard likes how his squad has fought through the ups and downs prior to Texas’ recent run of five wins in a six-game stretch, including three wins over AP Top 25 foes. The Longhorns didn’t enter the season with a goal of playing good basketball in the middle of February, Beard said on Thursday, but he likes hus club’s current trajectory since the arc falls in line with what he’s preached since the pieces started trying to come together last summer.
“The champions, they know how to learn and continue to improve no matter what the scoreboard says,” Beard said. “Most teams, you know, they only get better after a loss and they get a little bit fat-headed after win, but this team’s a little different. We’ve stayed the course and had a little success on a scoreboard recently and that’s great for the fan base and all that.
“We’ve got practice here in a few minutes and we’re just going to try to get better again today.”
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Texas: Marcus Carr (11.0 points, 3.5 assists per game); Courtney Ramey (9.7 points, 3.1 rebounds per game); Timmy Allen (11.8 points, 6.6 rebounds per game); Brock Cunningham (2.4 points, 2.2 rebounds per game); Christian Bishop (6.3 points, 5.1 rebounds per game)
Baylor: Adam Flagler (12.7 points, 3.3 assists per game); James Akinjo (13.0 points, 5.7 assists per game); Kendall Brown (10.0 points, 4.9 rebounds per game); Matthew Mayer (9.3 points, 4.7 rebounds per game); Flo Thamba (4.8 points, 4.7 rebounds per game)
— Carr’s runner on the first possession of the game for the Longhorns misses the mark, but Bishop tips it in for the first points on the afternoon. The bigger story, however, is on the other side as Mayer leaves the floor before the Bears are able to inbound the ball. Jeremy Sochan (8.3 points, 6.1 rebounds per game) comes off of the Baylor bench and checks into the game with Mayer headed to the locker room.
— A timeout by the Bears with 16:26 to go in the first half is the first stoppage of the day with Mayer out of the locker room and reach to check back into the game. Texas has the early lead, 6-2, with two offensive rebounds by Bishop leading to both of his buckets. He’s picking up where finished in Monday’s win over Kansas, an outing where he grabbed seven offensive boards en route to a six-point, 10-rebound performance.
— A 12-0 run over a span of 2:25 puts Baylor up by eight, 16-8, when Dylan Disu (4.6 points, 3.9 rebounds per game) goes to the foul line with 12:50 on the clock. The run for the Bears starts with Flagler and Mayer knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (8.6 points, 7.0 rebounds per game) and Brown sandwich dunks with a tip-in by Brown. The run ends when Disu knocks down two free throws, the first of the day for the Longhorns.
— With 11:41 to go in the half, the under-12 media timeout feature a potentially huge swing in momentum. Tchamwa Tchatchoua goes down near the midcoast logo and immediately grabs his left leg. He’s eventually helped off of the floor by the Baylor medical staff, unable to put weight on leg on his way back to the locker room. Disu goes 1-for-2 from the foul line when play resumes, cutting the Texas deficit to three, 16-13.
— Flagler’s turnaround jumper around the free-throw line makes is eight field goals in the last 10 attempts for Baylor, who leads Texas by nine, 24-15. The deficit for the Longhorns goes to 12 on a 3-pointer by Flagler, accounting for a 9-0 run by the Bears. When the under-8 timeout comes with 7:29 to go in the half and the Longhorns trailing Baylor, 27-15, the Bears are shooting 55.6 percent from the field (10-for-18). Texas, meanwhile, is in the midst of a 1-for-9 shooting slump, hasn’t scored in three minutes and is 6-for-20 from the field (30 percent), including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.
— Carr gets to the foul line and ends a 13-0 run by Baylor with two free throws. The bleeding stops, if only momentarily.
— Just 1-for-11 from 3-point range in Big 12 play, Jase Febres (3.1 points, 1.4 rebounds per game) comes off of the bench and nails a 3-pointer from the corner at the 6:15 mark. It’s the first Texas field goal since Ramey’s tip-in of a lobbed inbound pass with one second remaining on the shot clock over four minutes ago (10:40 on the clock). Unfortunately, the Longhorns hit the final media timeout of the half (3:56 to go) in a 1-for-9 shooting slump. Baylor hits the stoppage with a 15-point lead, 35-20.
— Baylor pushes the lead 18 with 2:27 to go on a 3-pointer by Flagler, a shot made right in front of the Texas bench. The Longhorns, however, are able to string together a nice end to the half, outscoring the Bears, 8-2, and getting a baseline jumper from Ramey that drops before the final horn send Texas into the locker room on a positive note after a mostly forgettable first half.
HALFTIME: Baylor 44, Texas 31
— The Longhorns ends the half shooting 10-for-27 from the field (37 percent), including 1-for-5 from 3-point range. If not for the foul line, where Texas enjoyed a 10-for-12 performance in the first half, the game might be completely out of reach.
— Shooting 48.1 percent from the field (13-for-27), including 4-for-10 from beyond the arc, the Bears built a large lead by taking the fight to the Longhorns over the first 20 minutes. A 14-for-15 effort from the free-throw line exemplifies the aggressiveness Baylor played with in the first half.
— The Bears headed into intermission with four blocked shots and a 19-13 edge on the glass. Baylor has simply outplayed Texas in virtually every possible way, although the momentum from the Ramey jumper and the absence of Tchamwa Tchatchoua along with the Bears still missing their leading scorer, LJ Cryer (13.9 points per game) due to a foot injury, could set the stage for a second-half rally, especially if fouls continue to be called at a steady clip on both ends of the floor.
— Brown finding Thamba down low for an uncontested dunk 10 seconds into the second half is the only field goal for either side through the first three minutes. Allen misses two free throws with 17 minutes to go in regulation (the crowd erupts thanks to an in-game promotion that awards them a free cupcake from a local bakery when an opponent misses back-to-back free throws in the second half) and Thamba gets a bucket at the other end. With Baylor scoring the first six points of the half, Texas heads to the bench with 16:48 on the clock facing a 19-point deficit, the largest of the day with Baylor leading the Longhorns, 50-31.
— A Devin Askew (2.0 points, 1.5 assists per game) 3-pointer stems the tide coming out of the timeout, but Akinjo’s off-balanced jumper drops and draws a foul on Allen, his fourth of the game. Akinjo’s opportunity for a three-point play will come following the under-16 media timeout, which comes with 15:19 to go and Texas down by an 18-point margin, 52-34.
— Akinjo and Andrew Jones (10.0 points, 2.7 rebounds per game) trade buckets in a fun stretch where the two guards scoring opportunities for themselves, including a 3-pointer by Jones in the corner, but the back-and-forth stops when Flagler nails a 3-pointer from the wing in front of the Baylor bench with 13:04 on the clock to push the lead to 20, 59-39. Texas is able to cut it to 18 when Carr goes 2-for-3 from the foul line after going to the ground on a 3-point attempt from the corner in front his own bench, but nobody gets in front of a Sochan on a wide-open three from the wing. The fifth Baylor triple of the afternoon makes it a 21-point game in favor of the Bears, 62-41.
— All of Jones’ eight points have come after halftime, including a 3-pointer to answer Sochan’s trey. With 10:58 to go, the under-12 media timeout comes with Texas down by 16, 62-46.
— Another 3-pointer from Jones, his fourth of the half, cuts the Baylor lead to a 15-point margin, 62-49. After two free throws by Allen, Texas is down by 11 with 9:20 to go thanks to the recent 9-0 run.
— With a chance to cut further into the deficit, the Longhorns can’t break through. Bishop is called for an over-the-back foul trying to grab an offensive rebound, which leads to Thamba making the front end of a one-and-one opportunity from the line. Allen’s ensuing drive to the bucket is blocked by Thamba and after Baylor takes possession of the ball, Akinjo’s jumper quickly gets the lead for the Bears back up to 15. Texas enters the under-8 media timeout (7:26) down by 15, 66-51, and without a field goal in almost three minutes (0-for-4 from the field over the last 2:51).
— The Longhorns make it a 12-point game, 66-54, when Febres gets away from Mayer and knocks down a 3-pointer from the wing. That’s when Baylor puts together a 7-0 run highlighted by a Flagler 3-pointer. Bishop hits two free throws with 5:21 to go to end the scoring run by the Bears, but Texas is down by 17, 73-56, and running out of time to make things interesting down the stretch.
— Flagler misses everything on a baseline jumper to snap a streak of four field goals in a row for the Bears, but Brown catches the airball and puts it back up for two points to get the lead back to a 21-point margin, 77-56, when the final media timeout of regulation comes with 3:27 on the clock. Baylor is 12-for-21 from the field (57.1 percent) in the second half while Texas is shooting 28 percent (7-for-28) since halftime, is in a 1-for-11 shooting slump and hasn’t made a field goal in nearly four minutes (3:47 of clock time).
— Cunningham grabbing an offensive rebound and getting a second-chance bucket at the rim with 2:02 to play is the first field goal for the Longhorns since Febres’ 3-pointer with 7:14 to play. Going five-plus minutes without a field goal is only a small part of why the Longhorns are going to leave Waco with a loss. A tip-in by Dale Bonner (3.0 points, 1.8 assists per game) with 29 seconds to play is the exclamation point for the Bears.
FINAL: Baylor 80, Texas 63
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism