Baylor would like to forget its nightmarish trip to Morgantown on Jan. 10.
A day after earning the No. 1 ranking in the country for the first time in school history, the Bears committed 29 turnovers as they suffered their first loss of the season in an 89-68 blowout against West Virginia.
The No. 9 Bears hope to play a much cleaner game in the rematch against the No. 12 Mountaineers at 6 p.m. Monday at the Ferrell Center.
Baylor faces the daunting possibility of trying to contend with West Virginia’s press without point guard Manu Lecomte, who is questionable with an ankle injury after missing most of the second half of Saturday’s 72-69 loss to Iowa State in Ames.
Lecomte injured the ankle on Jan. 18 in a 67-65 loss to Kansas. Despite playing with pain, he still managed to collect 11 points and six assists in a 60-54 win over Oklahoma. But he was ineffective against Iowa State as he missed all three shots and didn’t record an assist in 15 minutes before going out for good early in the second half.
If Lecomte can’t play, Jake Lindsey will handle the bulk of the point guard duties after finishing with seven assists and two turnovers against Iowa State. Guards Al Freeman and King McClure will also do a great deal of ballhandling.
“Obviously Manu’s a great player and a big part of what we do,” Lindsey said. “He’s been in tough environments before and played against good teams. So you want to have as many good players as you can. I know he’s working to get back. But the rest of us are prepared to do what we have to do.”
In his second game since coming back from a three-game suspension for violation of team policy, Freeman enjoyed one of the best performances of his career against the Cyclones as he hit all five of his 3-point attempts and scored 17 points in 24 minutes.
“Al was really good, he passed the ball really well, he took good shots and he made shots,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “Defensively, he really gave us a great lift.”
With the loss to the Cyclones, the Bears (23-6, 10-6) fell into fourth place in the Big 12 standings, a game behind West Virginia (23-6, 11-5) and Iowa State. After facing the Mountaineers, the Bears travel to Austin to play Texas on Saturday in the final regular season game.
While Baylor has lost three of its last four games, West Virginia has won five of the last six including a 61-60 win over TCU on Saturday in Fort Worth. The Mountaineers won the game when Daxter Miles hit a free throw with 4.8 seconds remaining following a questionable call against TCU guard Jaylen Fisher.
West Virginia doesn’t blow people away with its offensive numbers. Jevon Carter leads the Mountaineers with a 12.7 scoring average while Esa Ahmad is averaging 11.7 points and Nathan Adrian is averaging 10.4 points.
But they destroy teams with their depth and fullcourt press as Baylor learned in the first meeting. West Virginia is by far the best team in the Big 12 with a plus 9.1 turnover margin per game while Baylor ranks last with a minus 1.9 turnover margin. Carter, Tarik Phillip, Adrian and Miles all rank in the top 12 in the conference in steals.
“Is there a tougher team to play on a one-day prep?” Drew said. “But the good thing is you know what they’re going to do. And we’ve played them once, so hopefully we have a better feel for that. We’ve been able to work on some things since then and we’re at home. For us, the big thing was 29 turnovers. We’ve already been there, done that, tried to set an NCAA record for turnovers. Hopefully we got that out of our system.”
Ironically, the Mountaineers’ only loss in the last three weeks was an 84-80 overtime decision against Kansas when they blew a 14-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation when they couldn’t handle the Jayhawks’ press.
Monday will also be the final home game for Ish Wainright, the only senior on the Baylor squad.
“It’s going to be an emotional game,” Wainright said. “It’s my last game here and I’m going to miss it. You might see a few tears drop. Not just a few, a lot. I can’t believe it. I was telling these guys it’s been a quick four years.”
Finishing strong in the final week of the regular season will be vital to Baylor’s seeding in the NCAA tournament. While a No. 1 regional seed is likely out of the picture, the Bears could still land a No. 2 or No. 3 seed with an impressive finish.
“You want to end on a high note for Ish and you want to get positive momentum going into the Big 12 and NCAA tournament,” Drew said. “I think for us, the big thing is we’re going to do everything we can to try to send Ish out the right way. And then, second thing is we have some time after that to get some guys healthy. Because at the end of the day, when you’re beat up, you’re beat up. And that’s where we are right now.”