There isn’t a more optimistic coach in college basketball than Scott Drew, so he did his best Sunday afternoon to put a positive spin on Baylor’s rash of injuries this season.
Center Tristan Clark went down with a season-ending knee injury a month ago, but it got worse Saturday when senior guards Makai Mason and King McClure missed a 70-63 loss to Kansas State with injuries.
That’s arguably the three best players on the team. But the misfortunes haven’t deflated Drew’s attitude.
“There’s only one way to live and we don’t know when it’s coming to an end, so you want to make every day count,” Drew said. “At the end of the day, we get to play basketball. It’s not the toughest, it’s not the hardest thing. It keeps you up when you lose. But at the same time it’s a blessing and a privilege.”
Drew was much more upbeat than after Saturday’s loss to Kansas State when he said, “If you believe in Murphy’s Law, I’d say we’re not getting anybody back. But we’ll find out.”
The good news for the Bears is that Mason’s toe injury and McClure’s knee injury aren’t expected to be long term. But it will be a game-time decision whether Mason and McClure play in Monday’s quick turnaround against Oklahoma at 8 p.m. at the Ferrell Center.
Though the Bears (15-8, 6-4) have lost their last two games against Texas and Kansas State to fall two games behind the league-leading Wildcats in the Big 12 race, they still have a solid shot to make the NCAA tournament if they finish strong in their final eight regular season games. On Sunday, the Bears were 34th in the country in the NET rankings.
Beating the Sooners (15-9, 3-8) will be critical because the Bears’ next two games are on the road against No. 18 Texas Tech on Saturday and No. 17 Iowa State on Feb. 19.
Drew expects a motivated Oklahoma team at the Ferrell Center after the Bears romped to a 77-47 win over the Sooners on Jan. 28 in Norman. That loss sent the previously nationally-ranked Sooners spiraling with a four-game losing streak, including Saturday’s 66-54 loss to Texas Tech in Norman.
“At the same time, I know we’re motivated because we’re playing for a lot too,” Drew said. “We’re trying to get back to the winning ways, trying to compete for a championship, and trying to get to the NCAA tournament, so there’s a lot of stuff we’re playing for too.”
In the 30-point blowout of the Sooners, the Bears got balanced scoring and played tremendous defense by holding the Sooners to a 27.3 shooting percentage while controlling the boards by a 39-32 margin.
The Baylor players expect the Sooners to make some changes in their game plan and to play more competitively in the rematch.
“Especially what we did to them at home, that gives them even more incentive playing against us,” said Baylor guard Jared Butler. “I definitely think they’re going to come out with more energy and more revenge-minded. I also think they’re going to scheme against our zone a lot better because we played zone in that game a good bit.”
Despite the short two-day turnaround, Drew plans to draw up several different game plans for the Sooners since Mason and McClure are questionable. For Monday games, Drew puts his team through a light Sunday workout to recover from the Saturday game, and focuses more on film study.
“Several game plans,” Drew said. “So one without them, one with one of them, one with both of them, and then go from there. But at the same time, we just played Oklahoma, so we have some familiarity and it’s a quick turnaround for them too. This time of year, guys would rather play than practice, so they’re probably pretty happy with it.”
Though the Bears were short-handed against Kansas State, they played with a lot of energy and determination. They led throughout much of the game before the Wildcats’ experience and depth took over in the final minutes.
“When we found out that King wasn’t going to play and Makai wasn’t going to play, we kind of put some plays in on the fly,” said Baylor forward Mario Kegler. “And we still played to win. We still could have won the game easily. I don’t think it comes down to whether or not our scheme is up to par. I think it comes down to the willingness to win – offensive rebounds, defensive stops.”
Making their first starts in Big 12 play, junior guard Devonte Bandoo scored a team-high 15 points while junior forward Freddie Gillespie hit six of seven field goals to finish with 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
Since the Bears were so short-handed with eight scholarship players and former football player Obim Okeke on the floor, Gillespie played a season-high 31 minutes while Bandoo played 36 minutes, just a minute short of his season high.
With a lighter bench, the Bears had difficulty hanging with the deeper Wildcats in the final minutes.
“Definitely fatigue sets in when you exert so much energy to do what you do to stay in the game and give yourself a chance to be successful,” Drew said. “Either it’s 100 percent or it’s not good enough, so they exerted a lot of effort. That’s why the crowd was really big for us because that helped us too.”
Whether or not Mason and McClure play against the Sooners, the Bears still plan to bring the same energy to the game that they did against Kansas State.
“I question, ‘Why us? Why our team?’” Kegler said. “We’ve had to reshape this team like six times this year. But our biggest goal is just to go and play and have fun. Whatever happens, happens.”