November 12, 2015

(AP) - Coach Scott Drew and the Baylor Bears will never forget one of the lasting images from last season's NCAA Tournament. They were on the losing side of it.

''That experience hopefully will motivate us this year,'' said Drew, whose Bears are ranked 22nd going into their season opener Friday night against Stephen F. Austin.

Instead of making a run at a fourth Sweet 16 appearance in six years, the Bears were done after only one tournament game after leading by 12 with under 3 minutes left. Georgia State scored the game's last 13 points, including R.J. Hunter's 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left that prompted his father, and coach, to fall out of his chair on the sideline.

''When, hopefully, I'm 80, 90 years old, and unfortunately I'll probably still remember that game,'' Drew said. ''But when the players have that burning desire and they're the ones that have that experience, that's even more beneficial. So hopefully at the end of this year that's something that will have helped us.''

Two senior starters return - 6-foot-8, 275-pound power forward Rico Gathers and guard Lester Medford - along with 6-9 sophomore forward Johnathan Motley from a team that finished 24-10.

Taurean Prince was Baylor's primary sixth man last season, but the 6-7 senior forward was the team's leading scorer at 13.9 points a game and is expected to be in a starting role now.

But the Bears have to replace two-year starting point guard Kenny Chery (11.3 points, 4.1 assists) and forward Royce O'Neale (10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists), two players Drew said were also ''great leaders and individuals.''

Gathers led the Big 12 last season with 11.6 rebounds a game and also averaged 11.6 points, making him the only power-five conference player with more than 11 points and 11 rebounds a game. But he shot only 46 percent from the field and 62 percent on free throws.

Drew said the big man spent a lot of time in the gym during the offseason.

''If he can become a 75, 80-percent free throw shooter, his production is going to go way up,'' Drew said. ''His jump shot has improved. It's a lot softer, a lot better rotation.''

During the summer, Prince started for the USA team that won the bronze medal in the Pan Am Games.

''This summer really took his game to another level,'' Drew said. ''Just the confidence he was able to gain from that. The way he's approaching each and every day in practice, it's great to see.''

King McClure and Wendell Mitchell, a pair of 6-3 shooting guards, were two of the top recruits in Texas and could immediately contribute for the Bears. McClure averaged 24 points and 3.2 steals in 113 prep games at Triple-A Academy in Dallas, while Mitchell averaged 25.6 points and 3.6 steals in 123 games for Rockdale High.

The third Baylor freshman is versatile guard Jake Lindsey, the 6-5 son of former Baylor player and current Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey.

The Bears are 47-9 against Texas teams over the past six seasons after going 10-27 in Drew's first six seasons. The only time they leave the state before the Big 12 opener Jan. 2 at Kansas is Monday's visit to Oregon, which received the 26th-most votes in the preseason AP Top 25.

Stephen F. Austin (29-5) could also present Baylor a challenge. The Lumberjacks are heavily favored to win a fourth straight Southland Conference regular-season title after putting up a good fight in a 57-50 opening loss to Utah in the NCAA Tournament and upsetting VCU in 2014 version.

Coach Brad Underwood's team, though, did appear overmatched in a 67-51 loss at Baylor last November, but that was before then-freshman Ty Charles became an integral part of the offense. He would average 10.2 points in conference play and is now the only underclassman among the all-SLC preseason selections.

However, the offense will continue to go through Thomas Walkup, the reigning Southland player of the year after averaging 15.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Walkup would average 19.4 points in his final 13 games, but Baylor held him to 11.

Underwood has a 61-8 record since taking over the Lumberjacks, recording the most wins by a coach in his first two seasons in Division I history.

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