Dealing with Oklahoma freshman sensation Trae Young has been a major dilemma for every Big 12 coach this season.
Baylor learned just how difficult it is to stop him as he broke loose for 44 points in the first meeting between the two schools as the Sooners hung on for a 98-96 win on Jan. 30 in Norman.
But after that game, Young began struggling and the Sooners nosedived with six straight losses to drop out of the Top 25. They finally halted the slide with an 86-77 win over Kansas State on Saturday.
Desperate for a win, the Bears hope to slow down Young enough to make it a memorable Senior Night for Jo Lual-Acuil, Manu Lecomte, Nuni Omot and Terry Maston when they play their final home game at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Ferrell Center.
“I’m excited,” Lual-Acuil said. “We have a great group of seniors, guys I’ve been around for a long time. I want to make sure we do whatever we need to do to get a victory. It won’t be such a great Senior Night if we don’t get the victory, so that’s the most important thing.”
In the first game against the Bears, Young hit 11 of 20 field goals, six of 11 3-pointers, and nailed 16 of 19 free throws to go along with nine assists. Baylor coach Scott Drew reviewed the film and saw the Bears played solid defense on some plays, but Young hit a lot of tough shots including several treys from well beyond 3-point range.
“When you go back and watch the film getting ready for this game, you see the 44 points he scored, you’re like ‘Man there were a lot of tough shots he hit,’” Drew said. “A lot of things we did well defensively that if we tweak one or two things and hopefully keep him off the free throw line 19 times that will help.”
Fatigue from a heavy workload certainly affected Young during Oklahoma’s six-game losing streak as he shot 33.6 percent overall and 19.6 percent from 3-point range. But he played much more efficiently in the last win over Kansas State as he buried seven of 11 shots, including six of 10 3-pointers, en route to a 28-point, seven-assist performance to nail down the Sooners’ first win in February.
Despite the recent shooting slump, Young still leads the nation with 28.3 points and 9.1 assists per game. Tuesday’s game will likely be Young’s only appearance at the Ferrell Center since he’s expected to declare for the NBA draft after this season.
“We have to contain him, try to make him take bad shots,” said Baylor point guard Manu Lecomte. “Obviously we don’t want him to take 3s. If he has to shoot, it’s got to be contested. Send him to Jo, Tristan (Clark), and try to make him take shots. We’ve got to make it tough from the beginning and not let him get it going from the start.”
Tied for sixth in the Big 12, the Sooners (17-11, 7-9) are in much the same boat as the Bears (17-12, 7-9) since they both could benefit from a strong finish to make the NCAA tournament.
Ranked No. 34 nationally in the NCAA basketball RPI, the Sooners are in better shape for the postseason than the Bears, who were No. 63 through the weekend games following two straight losses.
If the Bears beat Oklahoma and finish the regular season with a win over Kansas State on Saturday in Manhattan, they’ll finish Big 12 play with a 9-9 record and likely assure themselves of their fifth straight NCAA tournament berth.
“Do we feel like we need this one? Yeah,” Drew said. “But we’ve felt like we’ve needed them all. So you go into every game wanting to win and feeling like you need to win. We’ve felt like our backs were against the wall since we were 2-7, 2-6, 2-5, 2-4. As long as we’re playing we control our own destiny. Even if we don’t do well in the regular season you still have the conference tournament.”
The Bears were the hottest team in the Big 12 when they put together a five-game winning streak that included wins over then-No. 10 Kansas and then-No. 7 Texas Tech.
But the Bears struggled offensively in a 71-60 home loss to West Virginia last Tuesday as they shot 32.8 percent and committed 14 turnovers. Baylor’s offense picked up in Saturday’s 82-72 road loss to TCU, but the Horned Frogs shot 69.6 percent in the second half to seal the win.
Lecomte has hit a scoring slump as he’s made four of 22 shots in the last two losses and scored a combined 17 points. But he was hot in the first game against Oklahoma by scoring 29 points, and will likely need a big game to help the Bears stick with the explosive Sooners, who are ranked second nationally with 87 points per game.
“OU is an offensive team,” Lecomte said. “They like to score a lot. After a make or a miss, they like to push it and score. We can put up points too, but we’ve got to do a better job defensively than we did at their place, and I think we’ll be all right.”