Texas Shoots Past Baylor

When the Longhorns held off the visiting Bears 79-70 on Monday night, it marked the first time this year Texas bested a Big 12 squad with a winning record in regulation.

Afterward, Texas coach Rick Barnes didn't hesitate in calling it the team's most complete effort of the season.

"From a team standpoint, mentally and physically, no doubt," Barnes said. "Just by the way they handled themselves, the way they did what we set out to do. Their poise, their demeanor, the way they never flinched.

"We weren't perfect. We're never going to be perfect," Barnes said. "But the fact is, it's the way we want to play."

The Longhorns (14-16, 6-11 Big 12) improved to 4-3 after the return of Myck Kabongo, with their third win over a team with a winning record. Texas's three losses have come to the Big 12's top three teams in Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. And they beat a Baylor team (17-12, 8-9) that entered the game as one of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's "last four out."

But with respect to a brilliant performance from Kabongo, who dropped in 19 points, grabbed six rebounds, dished out eight assists and stole the ball three times, this was about much more than just the typical before-and-after snapshot with the point guard.

There was Sheldon McClellan, attacking the rim and scoring 23 points in 25 minutes. There was Cameron Ridley, playing what Barnes called his most aggressive effort since December. There was Ioannis Papapetrou, scoring 18 points in a variety of ways.

In fact, Ridley and Papapetrou connected on one of the game's biggest plays. With Texas leading 58-57 in the with less than five minutes left, Papapetrou missed a layup at the rim. Ridley scrapped for the offensive board, grabbing the ball as it was headed out of bounds and pitching it to an open Papapetrou, now behind the arc. Papapetrou hit the three, opening up a bit of breathing room.

Ridley finished with eight points, five rebounds (four offensive) and two assists.

Three times after that, the Bears clawed within three. The first time, McClellan hit a soft floater. The second, Kabongo drove to the hoop for a lay-in with 2:08 left. And finally, with 1:47 remaining, Julien Lewis nailed a three-pointer off an assist from Kabongo.

Then the Longhorns, who made just 9-of-their-first-17 free throws in the game, and who had struggled so many times this season to close teams out, did just that, making 7-of-8 freebies down the stretch.

"When you've got a great point guard and have a lead in the last five minutes, it really helps things," said Baylor coach Scott Drew of Kabongo's impact.

Baylor's own great point guard, Pierre Jackson scored 22 points and added eight assists for the Bears. Isaiah Austin took 14 shots to score his 15 points. Cory Jefferson, who dominated the first meeting between the two teams with 25 points and 10 rebounds, was held to seven points and eight boards.

Overall, Texas won the rebounding battle at 36-29 and had a sizable 36-22 edge in bench points.

"It's really tough because you've got so many highs and so many lows and so many swings," Drew said. "I think that's college basketball this year. I think there has been wins and loses by everybody that make you go, 'Wow!'

"That's why, down the stretch, you just want to give yourself a chance to get in the tournament because anything could happen this year," Drew said. "We're running out of opportunities."

Both Baylor and Texas would appear to have one final opportunity — having to make a run in the Big 12 Tournament — to make the final NCAA Tourney field.

That's another reason why Monday's win could be important for the Longhorns. At 6-11 in the league, Texas is just a half-game behind West Virginia for the No. 7 seed. While that doesn't seem like a huge deal, it's the difference between Texas likely facing red-hot Kansas in the second round of the Big 12 Tourney or getting Kansas State. West Virginia is at 6-10 with a game at Oklahoma on Wednesday.

West Virginia has the tiebreaker over Texas with two wins this season over the Longhorns, so the only way the 'Horns can pass the Mountaineers is if West Virginia loses both Wednesday's game at Oklahoma and Saturday's home contest against Iowa State, and if Texas closes out with a win at Texas Tech.

Texas's only chance to make the NCAA Tournament at this point is to get the automatic big that comes with winning the Big 12 Tournament.

"We just have to keep working hard," Kabongo said. "You can tell we have been improving. This is the time of year we are no longer sophomores, we are juniors. Freshman are no longer freshman, they are sophomores. We have been through everything and it has been a tough year. We have to build momentum and work at it everyday."

The Longhorns' season-ending game in Lubbock is set for 3 p.m.

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