Facing a one-point game in a contest the Longhorns led huge at one point, Texas coach Rick Barnes put the ball in the hands of his freshman point guard. And, as Isaiah Taylor has done so many times this season, the star point guard made a huge play.
With a dwindling shot clock and less than a minute remaining, Taylor ignored a high ball screen and drove into Baylor guard Kenny Chery, spinning away and droping a high left-handed layup over a fully extended Cory Jefferson, who came over to block a shot.
Twenty-three seconds later, following a Cameron Ridley blocked shot on a Chery attempt, Taylor was at the free throw line, where he iced the game with a pair of smooth free throws, setting the 74-69 victory margin."I think it was a big game because of the way we played," Barnes said. "We haven't given ourselves a chance in two games.
"We did a good job when they pushed back," Barnes said. "When we had to come down in the end and execute, we did."
In the first half, everything went the Longhorns' way. Javan Felix nailed five threes and Texas led by as many as 18, thanks to huge advantages in the paint (20-6), and on the fast break (18-5). The 'Horns took a 15-point lead into the half, 42-27.
"I felt really good," Felix said. "We have been shortening practice, so we have had a lot of extra time to get extra reps in on our own. So that's what I've been doing along with my teammates. It just felt good coming out of my hand today."But in the second half, the Bears came roaring back. After shooting just 2-for-10 from three in the first half, Baylor started off 6-for-8 from behind the arc in the second. A 12-point lead with 16:18 left was just four points after a Brady Heslip three with 14:24 remaining.
Six straight from Jonathan Holmes and a floater from Taylor left Texas up nine at 69-60 with 4:57 left, and Baylor had to call timeout. Once more, the Bears clawed back. Isaiah Austin scored on a layup, then Jefferson grabbed an offensive board and hit a jumper. After the two teams each scored a free throw to leave Texas up five at 70-65, Jefferson scored twice more, both off offensive rebounds again to put the score at 70-69 with 1:46 left.
Texas ran a quick set that involved Felix cutting out to the wing off a screen, and he flared out and hit a three-pointer. But just before the shot, Barnes called timeout to speak to his team. Instead, Felix wound up taking a tougher two-point jumper, which missed. Ridley missed a tip-in attempt, and the ball went out of bounds, off Baylor. That set up the high ball screen for Taylor, who converted, spinning off a flailing Chery, who seemed to want an offensive foul called.
Instead, Texas went up three. On Baylor's next possession, Chery drove into the paint himself, only to find his shot swatted by Ridley, who anticipated Chery's drive and left Jefferson to make the block. Holmes grabbed the loose ball and shoveled it to Taylor, who put the game away with a pair of free throws.
Ridley was terrific with 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, the last of which came with four fouls in a key game situation.
"Pretty tough. Pretty tough," Barnes said of Ridley's play. "I thought he played really well. Actually, when he wasn't in the game we struggled. We've got to get better production from the bench there, but Cam really set a tone for us and our guards did a nice job throwing the ball in there."
Felix finished with 21 for the Longhorns after shooting 7-for-12 from the floor, including 7-of-9 from three. Holmes had 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. In addition to his 13 points and late -game heroics, Taylor grabbed six rebounds and dished out seven assists."It was definitely a good win for us," Felix said. "It's definitely what we needed and we just have to put it behind us and look forward to Oklahoma on Saturday.
Baylor, which shot 25 percent in the first half, made 48 percent of its shots in the second half in outscoring Texas 42-32 in that second stanza. Chery led the way with 27, while Jefferson kept Baylor alive down the stretch with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
At 21-7 and 10-5 in conference play, Texas remains barely alive for a share of the Big 12 title, three games behind Kansas (22-6, 13-2) with three games to play. The Longhorns are currently tied for second with Iowa State (22-5, 10-5), with the Cyclones holding the edge for a No. 2 seed in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor, meanwhile, is in a must-win situation at 18-10 with a 6-9 conference record.
Texas will face rival Oklahoma (20-8, 9-6) on Saturday with the tip set for 3 p.m.