It’s become a major dilemma for every Big 12 team: How do you contain Oklahoma freshman phenom Trae Young?
The Sooners’ gifted guard leads the nation with 29.6 points and 9.6 assists per game. Whether it’s his NBA range 3-point shots, his elusive drives to the basket, or superb passes to teammates, Young has burned every team he’s faced and made the No. 12 Sooners a contender for the Big 12 title.
Baylor will try to hand the Sooners their first home loss at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla.
Young is a leading contender for national player of the year and the biggest reason why the Sooners have gone 10-0 at home and 15-5 overall.
In Oklahoma’s last home game on Jan. 23, Young collected 26 points and nine assists to key an 85-80 win over No. 7 Kansas that gave the Sooners a 5-3 Big 12 record.
“I think the big thing that everyone tries to do is to make it as tough on him as possible,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “If that’s from trapping ball screens, to denying him the ball, to whatever ways people have tried to slow him down – from running two at him – you just want to make things difficult on him. At the same time, the other teammates are more than capable. So you can’t just concentrate solely on him.”
Baylor redshirt freshman guard Tyson Jolly played against Young in high school in Oklahoma, and knows how difficult he is to defend. Jolly starred for Putnam West while Young was a McDonald’s All-American for Norman North.
“I played against him his freshman and sophomore years and my junior and senior years in high school,” Jolly said. “He was really good then too, just a little older now. We’re going to stick to our principles. We’re going to find him in transition. We’re going to pressure the ball and make him be a driver. We’re going to rely on our teammates and our bigs to stay back and make him finish.”
The Bears (12-9, 2-6) will have to play much better perimeter defense than they showed in Saturday’s 81-60 loss to No. 23 Florida in Gainesville in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. The Gators drained 14 of 25 3-pointers and led the game from start to finish.
“They made I think eight out of their first 12 contested 3’s,” Drew said. “A minute into the game, they’re banking in a 3. You’re like, ‘Here we go.’ We’ve got to do a better job contesting them, but you’ve got to give them credit too. They played well and we didn’t shoot well.”
Poor shooting has plagued the Bears since the start of Big 12 play as they rank last in the league with 68.1 points per game and ninth with a 41.4 field goal percentage. In the loss to Florida, the Bears hit just 40 percent overall and 20 percent from 3-point range.
Drew said the Bears got a lot of good looks at the basket but failed to hit open shots against the Gators.
“You go through stretches like that,” said Baylor center Jo Lual-Acuil. “It happens to every team and we’re going through it right now. We’ve just got to stick together and get through it. Eventually they will fall.”
While Young is by far the Sooner’s biggest scoring threat, his passing skills have made his teammates more productive.
Guard Christian James is averaging 11.9 points and is shooting 39.2 percent from 3-point range while freshman forward Brady Manek is averaging 11.3 points while hitting 41.5 percent of his 3-pointers. Forward Khadeem Lattin and guard Kameron McGusty are both averaging eight points.
Tuesday’s game will mark the halfway point of the Big 12 season, and the Bears don’t want to fall deeper into a hole. Baylor’s schedule is more favorable in the second half of the conference schedule with home games against four of the top teams, including Kansas on Feb. 10, Texas Tech on Feb. 17, West Virginia on Feb. 20 and Oklahoma on Feb. 27.
But a road win against the Sooners would be a major boost for a Baylor team that’s been a disappointment following last year’s Sweet 16 run. The Bears have taken no solace in several last minute losses.
“I feel like there are no moral victories,” Lual-Acuil said. “In the Big 12 you’ve got to be competitive. You can’t just walk out and say we competed but we lost. If we lose games by three we still lost. It’s tough for everybody to be upbeat obviously with the situation we’re in. We’ve just got to move on to the next game. There’s nothing you can do about the past.”