GAME NOTES: With a chance of winning the Big 12 Conference regular-season title still a reality, the 13th-ranked Baylor Bears play host to the Oklahoma Sooners this afternoon at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
The first season of Lon Kruger's tenure at Oklahoma has been anything but a positive one, as the team is just a game over .500 on the year (14-13) and has lost 11 of its 15 conference bouts. The Sooners are just 1-6 in true road games, the lone triumph coming at Kansas State, 63-60, back on January 28. OU recently put the brakes on a six-game slide by knocking off bitter rival Oklahoma State at home on Wednesday night, 77-64. Kruger's club has just four wins since the calendar flipped to 2012.
At the other end of the success spectrum lies a Baylor team that is currently 23-5 overall and 10-5 in conference. Just two games off the pace set by league-leading Kansas with three to play, the Bears obviously need to take care of their own business and get a considerable amount of help to finish on top. BU won at Texas on Monday night, 77-72, marking just its second win in the last five games. Still, the Bears have a manageable schedule the rest of the way, as it will play host to last-place Texas Tech on Monday before bringing down the curtain on the regular season next Saturday at Iowa State.
Oklahoma owns a commanding 37-9 advantage in the all-time series with Baylor, but the Bears won the first meeting this season, 77-65, in Norman on January 24, and will be trying to secure a season sweep of the Sooners for the second time in the last three years.
The primary reason for Oklahoma's disappointing campaign has been its inability to shut down the opposition, as the team permits 68.8 ppg, with that figure climbing to 72.5 ppg against Big 12 foes, which is the worst yield in the conference. The Sooners' scoring offense also took a hit once the league slate rolled around, the team netting just 65.0 ppg to rank eighth in the 10- team league. That effort has dropped OU's season scoring average to a still healthy 70.4 ppg. Steven Pledger heads a list of three active double-digit scorers for the Sooners, as he turns in 16.8 ppg behind a 47.1 percent overall shooting effort. He is far-and-away the team's top long-range sniper as well, hitting more three-pointers (67) than his closest teammate has attempted (60). Andrew Fitzgerald (12.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Romero Osby (12.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg) have produced at times this year for the Sooners, who played their best half of basketball this season in the recent win over Oklahoma State, as they took a 30-12 lead into the locker room at the break. The Cowboys came storming back to make a game of it, but OU held on thanks to double-digit scoring from four players, including a double-double effort consisting of 16 points and 13 rebounds by Osby. Pledger led the charge with 17 points, Cameron Clark added 14 and Sam Grooms chipped in with 10 for the Sooners, who claimed a 47-32 rebounding edge and doubled up the Pokes at the free-throw line, 14-7.
With a record as impressive as Baylor has, it's no surprise that the team ranks in the top half of the Big 12 in nearly every statistical category. The Bears boast four double-digit scorers in the form of Perry Jones III (13.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Pierre Jackson (12.7 ppg, 5.9 apg), Quincy Acy (12.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Quincy Miller (12.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg), and the team's fifth starter, Brady Heslip (9.3 ppg), is hitting a sizzling 45.1 percent of his three-point attempts in notching a club-best 69 treys. As a team, BU is putting up 74.6 ppg while allowing 63.7 ppg, those numbers moving to 72.0 ppg and 68.0 ppg, respectively, against conference foes. Jackson scored a game-high 25 points and Acy logged a monster double-double with 22 points and 16 rebounds to power Baylor to its five-point win at Texas earlier in the week. The Bears shot just 40.0 percent from the floor, but made good on 9-of-18 three-point attempts and claimed a 24-14 edge in points from the charity stripe. Those efforts were needed as the Longhorns shot 48.1 percent from the field, dropping eight treys along the way, and they committed just 10 turnovers. Baylor won the game despite being outscored in the paint (30-16), off turnovers (16-11), in second-chance points (19-13) and in bench points (20-8).
Simply put, Baylor is superior to Oklahoma in every aspect of the game, and it shouldn't take long for the Bears to demonstrate that fact. Expect the hometown faithful to leave smiling as coach Scott Drew's club continues its push toward a lengthy spring run.