Baylor can’t stop sliding. After losing only one game in nonconference, to current No. 2 Syracuse no less, Baylor has started 1-6 in Big 12 play. The Bears have lost five straight games. The Bears have been favored in all five such games.
The most recently came Tuesday night at the hands of West Virginia, a team that had never beaten Baylor going into the night. But West Virginia (12-9, 4-4) proved to be too much for the reeling Baylor Bears (13-7, 1-6) in a 66-64 loss in Waco.
Baylor struggled mightily on the defensive end for the first half as they trailed 36-33. The Mountaineers shot 46.4 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from the three-point line. The West Virginia ball movement was key, as they finished with 11 assists on 13 made field goals in the half.
Baylor dominated the boards in the first half thanks to sophomore forward Rico Gathers. The Bears finished with 20 rebounds in the half and Gathers grabbed eight of those. To put that into perspective, West Virginia as a team only had nine rebounds. No individual player had more than two rebounds in the half outside of Gathers.
Baylor turned up both their offensive and defensive intensity in the second half. Gathers had a rim-rattling dunk that seemed to shake the arena and ended up fourth on SportsCenter’s Top 10. Senior power forward Cory Jefferson finally got things together too for a half. He finished with six points on perfect shooting to go along with two blocks.
Baylor had opportunity after opportunity to get back into this game. Every time it seemed like they might, they gave up a big play to West Virginia. The Bears tied up the game at 47-47, but gave up a three-pointer 20 seconds later. With 11:22 left, Chery hit a three-pointer to tie the game up at 50-50. Forty seconds later, the Bears allowed an easy layup to freshman forward Brandon Watkins.
With 36 seconds left in the game, Gathers had two free throws with only a 64-63 deficit. Gathers would only make one of two to tie the game at 64-64 with just slightly over a shot clock remaining for West Virginia. Chery got beat on the other end of the floor and allowed WVU guard Juwan Staten to hit a reverse layup with 3.1 seconds left.
Baylor did have a play to try and win things with only 3.1 seconds left. Chery pushed the ball down the floor and threw in a three-pointer, but it was after the buzzer. Coach Scott Drew was adamant that the play he drew up worked and would have resulted in a dunk for Jefferson if Chery had been able to make the play, but it did not happen.
Defensively, the Bears held West Virginia to only 34.4 percent from the floor and 25 percent from behind the free throw line in the second half while largely playing with a three-guard lineup of junior guard Kenny Chery, Heslip and senior guard Gary Franklin. West Virginia guard Eron Harris shot 3-for-11 and 1-for-6 from three.
The issue in the second half was that the Bears’ rebounding dissipated. The Bears were actually outrebounded by the Mountaineers in the period 18-17, including 8-2 on the offensive boards. Thanks to this and a 6-2 turnover disparity, West Virginia attempted 12 more shots and were able to overcome their poor shooting.
Turnovers were once again a huge issue. The Bears turned over the ball 17 times, including 11 times in the first half. The Mountaineers converted these into 18 points. Baylor didn’t have a single point off turnovers. The Bears also shot 60.9 percent from the free throw line.
This is a game that Baylor had to win to salvage any sort of dreams of making the NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 has been the best conference in basketball this season, with seven teams that have been ranked at some this season. Out of those, four have been ranked in the top 10 at some point, including Baylor.
The road does not get easier from here for the Bears. They have yet to play Oklahoma State or Kansas State at all and they still play Texas and Oklahoma on the road. With the way Baylor is playing, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Bears finish Big 12 play with a total as low as five conference wins.
Would they even make the National Invitational Tournament with those numbers?
Baylor has to salvage something this Saturday against No. 8 Oklahoma State to prevent this season from turning into a complete nightmare.