(right) finished with 18 points and five assists in win over Kentucky. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
Friday night's action was highlighted by No. 20 Baylor's 67-62 win over No. 3 Kentucky.
(20) Baylor 67, (3) Kentucky 62
There was plenty of intrigue surrounding no. 3 Kentucky’s matchup with no. 20 Baylor on Friday night at AT&T Stadium.
For starters, the Wildcats and Bears are two of the most talented teams in the country, championship contenders in their respective conferences with the potential to make deep NCAA Tournament runs. They also feature a bevy of likely future NBA talent. Seven players between Kentucky and Baylor -- Julius Randle, Willie Caulie-Stein, James Young, Andrew Harrison and Alex Poythress for the Wildcats; Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson for the Bears -- are listed in Draft Express’s latest 2014 mock draft.
On Thursday, Bears center Isaiah Austin provided yet another reason to be excited about this game when he told The Dallas Morning News that “Kentucky is not better than us in any way, shape or form.” Strong comments from Austin, to be sure, but could the seven-foot center back them up by helping the Bears secure a win over the Wildcats Friday night?
The Bears answered that question when they pulled away from Kentucky late in the second half to seal a 67-62 win, Baylor’s second consecutive victory over the Wildcats. Junior college transfer point guard Kenny Chery paced the Bears with 18 points and forwards Austin (who also added five blocks) and Jefferson both added 13. Kentucky forward Randle scored 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but couldn’t do enough to push the Wildcats past a talented and athletic Baylor squad.
The Bears attacked Kentucky with a barrage of jump shots and dunks to build a 16-7 advantage before the first official TV timeout. After looking disjointed on offense early in the game, the Wildcats were able to find holes in the Bears’ zone defense and narrowed the deficit to just two points by the 9:25 mark. Kentucky knotted the score at 31 with just over four minutes remaining in the half after two Randle free throws. The Bears took a three-point lead into the break after Jefferson got behind Kentucky’s defense for a pair of dunks. Kentucky shot 6-of-10 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
Kentucky opened a nine-point lead early in the second half, but Chery, who orchestrated the offense in impressive fashion throughout the game, converted two free throws to put the Bears up one at the six-minute mark. A Chery mid-range jumper with 43 seconds left gave Baylor a 65-61 lead and effectively iced the game.
This was Kentucky’s first game against a high-profile opponent since its Nov. 12 matchup with Michigan State in the Champions Classic. The Wildcats came up just short and must now regroup before charging into the toughest part of their non-conference schedule. Kentucky will face undefeated Boise State, North Carolina, Belmont (who beat UNC in Chapel Hill earlier this year) and no. 7 Louisville before the end of the calendar year. Making it through that stretch without a loss will be tough, but if Kentucky can remedy some of the issues it evinced Friday night – including poor offensive execution down the stretch and an apparent lack of resolve and toughness – and continue to improve, it should enter its SEC opener against Mississippi State (Jan. 8) with one of the best non-conference resumés in the country. John Calipari’s team is getting better and it should be able to bounce back from this setback.
“Either we’ll start fighting or we’ll keep losing,” Calipari told reporters after the game.
Baylor whiffed in its first big non-conference tests of the season – the Bears fell to no. 8 Syracuse in the championship game of the Maui Invitational – but it capitalized on a big opportunity Friday night, adding one of the best non-conference wins of any team in the country so far this season. The Bears, who solidified their status Friday night as one of the best teams in the Big 12, should compete with Iowa State, Kansas and Oklahoma State for the league title. And while Kentucky, with its freshman-heavy rotation, likely possesses more potential for growth, Baylor should get better in the coming months, too. Scott Drew’s looked like an elite team when it lost to the Orange. On Friday night, it beat one.
Given the talent and depth Kentucky and Baylor boast, it’s not inconceivable the teams could return to AT&T stadium in April for the Final Four.
“That’s our goal, to get back here,” Jefferson said.
If you’re familiar with Taylor University men’s basketball, you’ve likely heard of the awesome annual tradition the Trojans have become famous for. The Friday before finals week, students wearing costumes pack Taylor’s home court, Odle Arena, and remain silent while anticipating the Trojans scoring their 10th point. When it happens, the students erupt in a wild celebration. Near the end of the game, the students lock arms and sing “Silent Night.” The tradition dates back to the early 1990s.
Below is a video of this year’s rendition, which took place Friday night during Taylor’s 94-72 win over Indiana Dabney.
Here’s a snapshot of the reaction to Taylor’s 10th point.
- After struggling last week at the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas -- Kansas fell to Villanova in the semifinals and squeaked out a four-point win over Texas El Paso in the third-place game -- the No. 6 Jayhawks have decided to shake up their starting lineup. Freshman Frank Mason will replace junior Naadir Tharpe at point guard for Saturday’s game at Colorado, according to KUSports.com. “We’re going to put Frank out there to start the game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “He’s been one of our more consistent, better performers so far this year. I think he deserves the opportunity.” Tharpe has started every game at point guard this season besides the season-opener, which he sat out due to a suspension. A four-star recruit out of Woodstock, Va., Mason has averaged 8.9 points, 19.4 minutes and just under three assists over seven games this season.
- UC Santa Barbara proved it shouldn’t be overlooked when it beat UNLV by 21 points on Nov. 21 at the Thomas and Mack Center. On Friday, the Gauchos picked up their second impressive win of the season when they knocked off Cal, 72-65. Undersized center Alan Williams (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) grabbed 12 rebounds and scored 24 points, three more than the combined number notched by Bears starting forwards David Kravish and Richard Solomon. Cal has lost three of its last four games.
- Pittsburgh moved to 9-0 Friday after beating Loyola Marymount, 85-68, at the Peterson Events Center. The Panthers had five players (forwards Lamar Patterson, Durand Johnson and Michael Young, center Talib Zanna and guard Cameron Wright) in double figures and limited the Lions to just 38.8 percent shooting.
- A relatively quiet night from national player of the year award candidate Shabazz Napier (seven points on 2-of-5 shooting) didn’t prevent No. 12 UConn from drubbing Maine, 95-68, in Hartford on Friday. Guard Ryan Boatwright scored 17 points and guard Omar Calhoun and forward DeAndre Daniels added 16 apiece in the rout.
- After losing to Miami last Sunday in the fifth-place game of the Wooden Legacy, Arizona State got 23 points, nine rebounds and five assists from point guard Jahii Carson in Friday’s 78-56 win over DePaul. Aztecs guard Jermaine Marshall chipped in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
- No. 9 Oklahoma State rebounded from a five-point loss last Sunday to then-No. 21 Memphis by dominating South Carolina, 79-52. Forward Le’Bryan Nash shot 5-of-7 from the field for 16 points.