This Season's Matchups
It's hard to read too much into Texas's first win over Baylor (23-10, 9-9 Big 12), an easy-peasy 74-60 victory in Waco. The Bears started their season 12-1 before starting Big 12 play 2-8 (with one of the wins coming against TCU). The Bears were reeling, and the Longhorns took advantage despite not playing especially well in what was kind of a dreary game.
The more important one was Texas's 74-69 win in Austin. The Bears rebounded from their poor start and have won nine of their last 10. The lone loss? That's right: Texas. The Bears had a stellar 1.19 Points Per Possession, thanks to Kenny Chery hitting 5-of-7 threes and scoring 27 points. Texas, meanwhile, got 21 from Javan Felix, 20 points and 10 boards from Cameron Ridley, 14 points and eight rebounds from Jonathan Holmes and a 13-point, six-rebound, seven-assist night from Isaiah Taylor.
On The Bears
The scariest thing about Baylor's win over Oklahoma on Thursday was the play of Isaiah Austin (7-1 225). Always one of the most gifted players in the Big 12, Austin has frequently doubled as one of the league's softest players. That was apparent in Austin when Ridley often posted up Austin seemingly deep within the charge circle. But Thursday, Austin showed glimpses of his vast potential, scoring 18 points, including a 6-of-8 night from inside the arc. He's always been a plus outside shooter for his position, and he hit 2-for-4 from three Thursday as well. But it was more impressive to see him take on a bigger burden inside, which has always been his Achilles heel. Austin also blocked five shots on the defensive side, forcing the Sooners to abandon their inside game and play penetrate-and-pitch for the better part of the second half.
When Chery (5-11 180) is on, he can be a scary player, the kind who can score off mid-range pull-ups, from distance and run a team. He's not as explosive as Pierre Jackson was, but he's outstanding at making opponents play Baylor's speed and controlling the game.
Cory Jefferson (6-9 220) is an excellent tandem player for Austin. He's more physical, and likes to assault rims on offense. You always have to account for him on the glass because he's never totally out of rebounding position. Both Austin and Jefferson rotate down low with bruising board-master Rico Gathers (6-8 270), who can be almost like another starter, and gives the Bears an intimidating front line.
Joining Chery in the backcourt are Brady Heslip (6-2 180) and Royce O'Neale (6-6 220). Heslip is the league's best three-point shooter, while O'Neal, and backup Taurean Prince (6-7 210) give the Bears some athletic players to roll out on the wing. Gary Franklin (6-2 190) can backup either guard spot and is a nice defensive stopper.
It's been that category that has held the Bears back this season. Baylor is eighth nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, but just 108th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Case in point, while the Bears averaged an outstanding 1.19 Points Per Possession in Austin, they allowed the Longhorns to average an absurd 1.28.
How Can Texas Win?
While Baylor's size and length gives the Bears an advantage over most teams, most teams doesn't include Texas. The Longhorns don't just have the length to match up, but Holmes and Ridley are more physical than their Baylor counterparts. When added to the fact that Isaiah Taylor has proven his ability to get into the paint against the Bears, Texas has a chance to bully Baylor inside and on the glass.
Texas will also have to keep the Bears from going nuts from outside. If the Longhorns can do those two things, the 'Horns have a chance of pulling out another win over a Bears team that has become one of the more dangerous teams in the league.