It only took the No.1 Baylor Bears 38 seconds to prove a Texas team ravaged by injuries was no match for them in the Longhorns’ 52-45 loss on Monday night.
After the Bears knocked the ball out of Andrew Jones’ hands on the opening possession, Texas inbounded the ball to junior forward Jericho Sims. The big man surveyed the court, took a few dribbles and challenged Freddie Gillespie, one of the elite shot-blockers in the Big 12.
The Baylor forward met Sims at the rim and pressed his dunk attempt against the backboard. Seven seconds later, Baylor redshirt junior guard MaCio Teague drained a 3-pointer.
“Defensively, they’re phenomenal,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “But they really do a good job of making you pay in those situations.”
The Bears aggressively blitzed and double-teamed any ball screen involving Texas’ guards, resulting in five first-half turnovers.
The Longhorns shot a painful 13% in the first 10 minutes before Matt Coleman connected on Texas’ only 3-pointer of the first half.
“When we shoot that poorly, the margin for error on defense is paper thin,” Smart said. “This goes against our formula, getting outshot from 3. We’re going to have to shoot the ball better (moving forward), and we’re going to have to make better decisions from our guards then we had tonight.”
Baylor’s six-point halftime lead reminded the 9,433 fans in attendance why the Bears have now won 21 consecutive games.
But with their season on the line, understanding that a loss to Baylor would effectively end any remaining hope they had of making the NCAA Tournament, the Longhorns scratched and clawed to keep up with the top-ranked Bears.
A fast 4-0 run out of the locker room briefly shot a jolt of energy throughout the Frank Erwin Center and brought Texas within two points. But against Baylor’s ball-hawking defense, two points seemed like a mountain.
Baylor’s narrow lead exploded from two to 15 in around nine minutes, leaving Sims pulling his hair and Smart burying his head in his hands. Smart stayed out of his full court “Havoc” press until the eight-minute mark, when Texas already trailed by 16.
“That (run) was the difference in the game,” Smart said. “You can’t let them get free for any of the looks they want to get.”
A late rally would cut the lead to five in the final minute, but wouldn’t be enough to push the Longhorns past their I-35 Rival.
“(With two) in-state schools competing in the back half of conference (play), you know each other well,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “When they call a play, we know what to do. Everyone knows everyone’s stuff, so now it comes down to mano a mano and players making plays.”
The worst news for Texas fans is yet to come. With their third straight loss in the past two weeks, the Longhorns’ hopes for a tournament berth all but rest on winning their last seven games.
“We still have seven games left on our schedule,” Coleman said. “You’ve got the (Big 12) Tournament. There’s still light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve just got to grab hold of it and step up to the challenge.”