With every close loss, Baylor’s chance to reach its school-record fifth straight NCAA tournament grows a little dimmer.
But the last-place Bears can still write their tournament ticket as the second half of the Big 12 round robin schedule begins against Iowa State at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center.
Playing five of their last nine games at home, the Bears (12-10, 2-7) have a tough but favorable schedule. After facing the Cyclones, the Bears’ last four home games are against Top 25 teams, including No. 7 Kansas on Feb. 10, No. 10 Texas Tech on Feb. 17, No. 15 West Virginia on Feb. 20 and No. 12 Oklahoma on Feb. 27.
If the Bears sweep their last five home games and win two of their last four on the road, they’ll be a lock for the NCAA tournament because of the strength of the Big 12.
“It’s a new start halfway through conference,” said Baylor guard Manu Lecomte. “Hopefully we’ll learn from our mistakes and do better in the second half of the Big 12. It has nothing to do with talent or scoring. It’s the little details. The games against Kansas, West Virginia, OU, we could have beaten them.”
The Bears are on a season-high four-game losing streak with losses to Kansas, Kansas State, Florida and Oklahoma. The Bears haven’t won since a 76-60 win over Oklahoma State on Jan. 15 at the Ferrell Center.
But with a few more clutch baskets, the Bears could easily be sitting pretty with six Big 12 wins. The Bears dropped three-point losses to TCU, West Virginia and Kansas. They’re coming off a 98-96 loss at Oklahoma after Jake Lindsey missed the first free throw in a one-and-one situation in the final seconds Tuesday in Norman.
“I would definitely say if you look at our losses and you look at things we can control every game except Texas Tech when we didn’t have Jo (Lual-Acuil), every game was a one or two possession game,” Lindsey said. “We’ve had games where it was our transition defense, then it was our 3-point shooting or maybe turnovers. It hasn’t been one thing to narrow down. So we’ve got to keep building in every area, but they are all things we can control.”
The Cyclones (12-9, 3-6) come into the game with momentum after an impressive 93-77 win over West Virginia on Wednesday in Ames. The win featured a 25-point performance by guard Donovan Jackson and a 22-point outburst by freshman guard Lindell Wigginton.
“They played a great game last game (against West Virginia),” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “Those two guards they have really score at a high rate, and we’ve got to make sure we do a much better job.”
Though the Bears dropped a 76-65 decision to Iowa State on Jan. 13 in Ames, it was a tightly contested game until the Cyclones finished with a 9-3 run.
The Bears hope to do a better job containing Wigginton, who drained five of 10 3-pointers and scored a career-high 30 points in the first meeting. Guard Nick Weiler-Babb collected 15 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds while forward Cameron Lard finished with 11 points and nine rebounds and forward Solomon Young added 11 points and 12 boards.
Baylor is seeking a better offensive game after shooting just 34.3 percent against the Cyclones.
“Hilton Coliseum is a tough place to play and we didn’t make a lot of shots,” Lindsey said. “I thought we got a bunch of good looks in that game. I think we were banged up and didn’t have our normal energy. I don’t think we undersold them, but we definitely focused more of our game plan on the guards. Their big guys stepped up and did a great job. I think we’ll be more prepared this time around.”
The Bears hope to continue playing at a high level offensively after scoring 83 in a loss to Kansas State on Jan. 22 and amassing a team Big 12-high 96 points against the Sooners.
Lecomte led the Bears with 29 points against the Sooners while Nuni Omot nailed all six of his 3-pointers and finished with 23 points. Lual-Acuil enjoyed a solid game with 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
“I think we know the kind of ability we have on this team,” Lindsey said. “Everybody on this team, starting with me, just needs to be a little more consistent. I think we have talent up and down the roster. But I think we’ve had games where certain people have played well and certain people haven’t showed up.”
Drew admits that it’s been difficult to keep his team’s spirits up as the Bears have struggled to win close games in the Big 12. But a winning streak would solve a lot of problems.
“You’re naturally down when you put out a lot of energy and effort and try as hard as you can to win and don’t,” Drew said. “That’s life. Everybody faces adversity, tough times. As long as the ball is bouncing and we have opportunities, we have to make the most of those.”