It was a game, possibly a week too late, but one that the Bears finally arrived and did what they needed to do. In the midst of 5 game losing streak, with 3 of those coming at home against teams they were favored to beat, Baylor needed a win. Not a win to save their season, as it might be too late for that, but one to simply right the ship. This was a lost team that had two excruciating losses off of last second shots that went in after the buzzer. This was a team that had lost its last three Big 12 road games by at least 10 points. This was a team that was going to be without its starting point guard, and primary facilitator of the offense.
A team that had found ways to lose for the past month, one that lost due to turnovers, bad shooting, missed free throws, or bad defense, finally put it all together in one of the more hostile environments in the Big 12, against a Top 10 team. It made no sense, but then it made perfect sense. The Bears got out of Stillwater, Oklahoma with a 76-70 win over a now stumbling Cowboys team that has lost 3 of their last 4 games, and is just 4-4 since their starting center Michael Cobbins was lost for the year.
"It was a big win for us," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We needed a win. We've played well enough to win a couple games, and we haven't. And that's because the Big 12 is a great conference, and the margin for error is small. As a coach, I'm just pleased that the guys have stayed together."
Inserted into the starting lineup for the injured Kenny Chery, Gary Franklin led the Bears final push to the win with three 3-point shots out of 4 offensive possessions that turned a 1 point deficit into a 5 point lead. The senior guard had just 2 points before that run, but did a great job controlling the offense and keeping the Baylor attack from stalling out. With 5 assists and just 2 turnovers, it was a big-time effort for the senior guard.
"It's great. Wherever we were going to go, we had to get a win. We're happy that we got it here because this is a great win, it's a great team. We knew we were going to turn it around sometime, so today is a good day," said Franklin.
During its losing streak, slow starts and too many turnovers have put the Bears in a hole, or not let them control of a game early. In this one, it was missed shots, as Baylor started just 1-9 from the floor, but their defense kept them in the game, as the score was just 3-3 five minutes into the game. The Bears zone defense forced the Cowboys into long shots all night, where they made 6-21 from behind the arc. Baylor on the other hand, hit their long shots making 11-23 led by senior guard Brady Heslip who scored a game high 20 points.
The star of the game for the Bears in the first half though was sophomore reserve forward Rico Gathers, who provided the Bears with a huge spark off the bench, scoring 12 points and gathering in 3 rebounds. He hit an array of hook shots and turnaround jumpers, but the play of the game came off of a transition dunk. Gathers jumped a passing lane and tipped the ball out to half-court, where he gathered it, and with a head full of steam stormed down the court and sent home a thunderous jam that left Phil Forte III scrambling out of the way. Gathers was one of four Bears that scored in double figures, and led a valiant bench effort that saw Baylor outscore the Cowboys 20-1 from the bench.
In the end, it was a big-time Baylor win, and possibly a building block to recapturing this season. The schedule does them no favors with Big 12 leader Kansas coming into Waco on Tuesday night looking to avoid their own losing streak.