AUSTIN — Baylor unveiled a perfect blueprint to make a deep NCAA tournament run in Saturday’s 75-64 win over Texas.
Johnathan Motley came up big inside with 17 points and 17 rebounds, the No. 11 Bears nailed nine of 20 3-pointers, and the defense never allowed the Longhorns to get into a groove in the regular season finale at the Erwin Center.
Of course, every team the Bears (25-6, 12-6) will play in the NCAA tournament will be better than the last-place Longhorns (10-21, 4-14). But Baylor could beat a lot of teams with that kind of versatility.
The Bears built a 17-point second-half lead and cruised to the win as they matched their most Big 12 wins in school history.
“Whenever you play on the road in the Big 12, it’s tough to begin with,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “And then when you add Senior Night, you know that those games are really hard to win. I’m just really proud of the guys’ effort and intensity. That’s the strength of our team is chemistry, leadership and depth.”
Before heading to the NCAA tournament, the Bears will play in the Big 12 tournament as the No. 3 seed beginning Thursday at 8 p.m. against No. 6 Kansas State in Kansas City. No. 10 Texas has a seven-game losing streak going into Wednesday’s game against No. 7 Texas Tech in the opening round.
The Bears finished the regular season in a three-way tie for second place with West Virginia and Iowa State. Now Drew and his players want to become the first team in school history to win the Big 12 tournament.
“We’re all about making history and no other Baylor team has cut down nets there, and that’s our goal,” Motley said. “I think we’re on the right track to do that. We have a lot of confidence going into the Big 12 tournament.”
For the second straight game, Baylor played without point guard Manu Lecomte who has a sprained ankle. Forward Terry Maston also didn’t play due to a one-game suspension for violation of team policy.
Drew hopes Lecomte will be ready for the Big 12 tournament, but he definitely wants to make sure he’s ready for the NCAA tournament.
“He’s close right now, and it was a game-time decision,” Drew said. “The big thing is with the Big 12 tournament coming up, the NCAA tournament coming up, you don’t want a player going in hobbled or limited. We brought him back against Iowa State, and he re-injured it, so we were a little more cautious today.”
While Motley didn’t match the career-high 32 points and 20 rebounds that he had in Baylor’s 74-64 win over Texas on Jan. 17 at the Ferrell Center, he was still highly productive on both ends of the court. He helped the Bears dominate the boards, 44-28.
With Lecomte out, Baylor’s guards contributed in a lot of ways. Jake Lindsey came through with one of his best all-around games by hitting six of seven shots for a career-high 16 points while dishing out four assists with only one turnover.
King McClure scored 12 points while Wendell Mitchell came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers in the first half.
“I’ve been on the Chuck Mitchell bandwagon a long time,” Lindsey said. “I tell a lot of people in the next couple of years he can be our best player, a guy who can play in the NBA. He’s that kind of talented.”
The Bears grabbed a 17-14 lead with Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 11:42 left in the first half and never looked back.
Mitchell came back with his second 3-pointer before Lindsey and Ish Wainright went deep for baskets. McClure scored three times on layups and Nuni Omot and Mitchell drained 3-pointers to stretch Baylor’s lead to 40-29 at halftime.
“When you take good looks it’s about making open shots,” Lindsey said. “Nine for 20 (3-pointers), you’d obviously take that most days. We focus on the type of attempts we’re taking. You have to take good shots. If someone leaves you open, you shoot. You have to play confidently out there. That’s our motto.”
Jarrett Allen, who led the Longhorns with 20 points and nine rebounds, scored a pair of baskets early in the second half to cut Baylor’s lead to 40-35.
But then Motley began to establish his dominance again by scoring twice in the paint and hitting a free throw. Two more Motley baskets pushed Baylor’s lead to 52-41 with 12:37 remaining.
The Bears never let up as Lindsey nailed his second 3-pointer and scored on a layup to extend the lead to 67-50 with 4:50 remaining.
Drew was proud of how his team performed with a short-handed roster.
“We were concerned,” Drew said. “But it was a great opportunity for guys to step up. And that’s what we did. Earlier in the year, when we were able to play guys like (Mitchell) minutes, I think that’s benefited us now, because the last two games we wouldn’t have won without him. He’s showing more confidence and more stability out there.”