King McClure didn’t know exactly how great the odds were stacked against Baylor at Arizona’s McKale Center.
The Wildcats had won 52 straight nonconference games at their home court in Tucson heading into Saturday night’s game, a streak that dated back to 2011.
But with a gutty rebounding and defensive effort, the Bears pulled out a 58-49 win before a stunned crowd of 13,058. Now Baylor hopes it can build off that pivotal win as it prepares to face SFA at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Ferrell Center.
“It’s hard to win at the McKale Center and we went in there and did it,” McClure said. “I really didn’t know that we snapped a win streak. It was a huge win, especially with so many new guys. It showed them that we’re capable of winning on the road. That was huge for our confidence, our self esteem and everything.”
With Mark Vital grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds, the Bears dominated the boards 51-19. The original stat sheet showed Vital with 16 rebounds, but another rebound was added later.
“Mark Vital is a beast,” McClure said. “It’s really hard to keep him off the boards. Just how hard he crashes, he tries to get every board. When you see somebody doing that, you can’t let him do it by himself. It’s contagious, so when he does it everybody wants to do it.”
Playing suffocating defense that limited the Wildcats to 35.8 percent shooting, the Bears overcame a sloppy first-half offensive performance in which they committed 13 turnovers. With senior guard Makai Mason finishing with a season-high 22 points, the Bears played much more efficient offense in the second half as they shot 63.6 percent and cut their turnovers to seven to outscore the Wildcats, 38-26.
“It just shows everybody there’s more than one way to impact the game,” McClure said. “I had 0 points but I had four steals, and I was playing great defense. You don’t have to have the best offensive night to win on this level. You just key in on rebounding and key in on defense, you can win games.”
Now 6-3, Baylor’s last three nonconference games leading into the Big 12 are all at the Ferrell Center, beginning with the Lumberjacks (5-4). The Bears host Oregon on Friday at 6 p.m. and New Orleans on Dec. 29 at 5 p.m. before facing TCU in Fort Worth on Jan. 5 at 3 p.m.
“First of all, we’ve got to have the same energy and the same excitement and same pep in our step as we did against Arizona,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “And we need to execute better. You can’t turn it over 20 times and be successful in the long run.”
The Lumberjacks have made the NCAA tournament four of the last five years, including last year when they won the Southland Conference tournament as the No. 3 seed. Now in his third season as SFA’s head coach, Kyle Keller has recorded a 51-26 record.
SFA’s attack is led by former McLennan Community College star Shannon Bogues, a senior who is averaging 16.8 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Drew knew Bogues was an outstanding prospect at MCC.
“A lot of times, you see people and you’re like, they’re good enough to play for us, we like them, but you have other people on your roster and you need a different position,” Drew said. “He’s somebody that could definitely be playing for anyone in the country, and his numbers show that.”
SFA guard Kevon Harris is averaging 13 points and 6.1 rebounds while forward Davonte Fitzgerald is averaging 12.7 points and five rebounds. The Lumberjacks are coming off a pair of losses, including a 96-93 overtime decision against Louisiana Tech in Nacogdoches and a 74-58 loss at Louisiana-Monroe.
Drew hopes the Bears can play a better first half than they did in their last two games. In a 71-63 loss at Wichita State on Dec. 1, the Bears trailed 44-15 at halftime. On Saturday against Arizona, Baylor went into halftime with a 23-20 deficit.
“Against Wichita State, it was the first road game and jitters,” Drew said. “Arizona, you had two weeks off, so sometimes you start a little sloppy. But I thought we’d execute better offensively in the first half. I was proud of how we did in the second half.”
After two grueling weeks of practice between games, the Bears transformed into a more physical team against Arizona, and they want to continue playing that style of basketball.
“Before the game, Coach Drew was like I know one thing, we’re going to be the most physical team,” said Baylor freshman guard Jared Butler. “We’re going to hit, box out and get rebounds, and that’s what we focused on and that’s what we got better at and that’s what we showed.”