No. 2 Baylor focused on Oklahoma St., not rankings (Jan 07, 2017)

WACO, Texas — While Baylor was hustling at home to edge out Iowa State on Wednesday night, something happened on a basketball court in another state that made a significant impact on the rest of the No. 2 Bears’ week.

When No. 18 Butler protected its home court and handed top-ranked Villanova a 66-58 defeat, it apparently cleared the way for Baylor to claim the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history. The next set of rankings will be released next week.

The Bears have already ascended from unranked to start the season to the penultimate spot. Along the way, they have defeated top-10-ranked Oregon, Louisville and Xavier, and college hoops power Michigan State. Now Baylor is a step away from the top of the mountain.

All that stands in the Bears’ way is Oklahoma State. Baylor (14-0, 2-0 Big 12) faces the Cowboys on Saturday in Waco, Texas.

The Cowboys have a 10-4 record to this point, but they have stumbled to start Big 12 play. West Virginia stomped Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., 92-75, a week ago. While the Bears were escaping with a two-point victory over Iowa State on Wednesday, Texas claimed an 82-79 win over the Cowboys.

Even so, as soon as the Iowa State game ended and the news of Villanova’s loss came down, the Baylor players and coach Scott Drew said they were solely focused on Oklahoma State.

“We’re not worried about the rankings,” Bears forward Johnathan Motley said. “We just have to handle business every day. Oklahoma State is what we’re focused on now and we’re going to do everything we can to get a W. This is the Big 12. All the games (on Tuesday) came down to one possession. This was a one-possession game (versus Iowa State) and we knew the things we had to do and how hard we had to play to get the win.”

That’s a prudent stance for Motley to take. The Big 12 has been the top-ranked league in conference RPI the last couple of seasons. It has slipped to the third spot so far this season behind the Big East and ACC, but still figures to be a tough road from here to March.

Baylor fans, though, can be forgiven for seeing a potential rout on the horizon when the Bears face the Cowboys.

Texas, which has struggled to find its footing this season, used a 15-0 run in the second half to help the Longhorns oust Oklahoma State.

Although the Cowboys have lost just four games, those defeats against North Carolina, Maryland, West Virginia and Texas have come by an average of more than 13 points.

First-year Oklahoma State Brad Underwood admitted his team is fighting to keep from feeling beaten down.

“Losing can be contagious if you allow it to be,” Underwood said. “I don’t want that to ever be accepted. Showing the emotion and toughness and character that it takes to bounce back is what we’ve spent a lot of time on.

“I guess I’m as concerned, now that it’s two losses, about this becoming something that gets us in to sort of a rut. We’re not going to allow that.”

Nothing would transform Oklahoma State’s collective psyche than keeping Baylor from climbing one more spot to No. 1.

But the Cowboys need Baylor’s narrative to change dramatically.

“Honestly, everyone would love to be ranked No. 1,” Drew said. “But our bigger goals and our more important goals are the conference and after the conference. So, you chase the bigger goals. And we know Oklahoma State is our next game, we know it’s a home game, and we know they’re an excellent team, just like every Big 12 team is.”