Northwestern St.-Baylor Preview
Following the departure of star Pierre Jackson, any questions that remained concerning Baylor's backcourt have been answered by Kenny Chery.
Now the No. 12 Bears are aiming to hit their stride in their final homestand before the start of Big 12 play.
Playing for the first time since a statement-making win, Baylor seeks its 71st win in 75 home games against non-conference opponents Wednesday night against Northwestern State.
Chery hasn't been asked to match the production of Jackson, who led the Big 12 with 19.8 points per game last season, but the junior college transfer has ably directed the offense and stepped up in big games.
Chery scored six of his game-high 18 points during a decisive run to help the Bears (8-1) claim a 67-62 victory over No. 3 Kentucky in AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Dec. 6. Trailing by nine in the second half, his jumper started a 15-5 push before he hit two free throws to give Baylor the lead for good with six minutes remaining.
Chery has averaged 15.4 points while helping the Bears go 4-1 against Colorado, Louisville, Dayton, Syracuse and Kentucky. Now they're feeling confident that they can live up to their preseason hopes and make it back to AT&T Stadium in April.
"Every team has goals at the beginning of the year and if your goal isn't to be in the Final Four then I'd be surprised," coach Scott Drew said.
After committing three of Baylor's season-high 20 turnovers in a 74-67 loss to No. 2 Syracuse in the Maui Invitational title game Nov. 27, Chery had two against the Wildcats. The Bears took much better care of the ball with 13 total turnovers in the win.
"I was going to be a point guard, just be a general - put guys in the right position so they are able to put the ball inside and put the ball outside," said Chery, who had his fourth game with five or more assists.
Baylor also looks to continue its dominance in the paint after outrebounding Kentucky 41-25. The Wildcats rank fifth with a plus-12.4 rebounding margin, while the Bears sit sixth at plus-12.3.
Cory Jefferson has played a key role in the post with team highs of 13.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, while 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin averages 3.4 blocks.
Baylor will try to compliment that inside game by getting their 3-point shooting back on track. Though they had made 44.4 percent from beyond the arc coming in, the Bears missed nine of 11 attempts versus Kentucky.
Following an 11-day break, Baylor can shake off any rust with four straight home games against non-conference opponents before opening Big 12 play Jan. 7 at No. 17 Iowa State.
While the Bears lead the all-time series with Northwestern State 6-1, this is the first meeting since Nov. 27, 2002. The Demons' lone victory came 65-60 at Baylor on Nov. 25, 1997.
The Demons (4-5) head into this one having lost five of six versus Division-I opponents, but they ran past D-III Louisiana College 116-76 on Saturday.
Jalan West leads the team with 17.8 points, 5.9 assists and 2.7 steals per game, while DeQuan Hicks averages 15.9 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Northwestern State has dropped eight straight to ranked opponents since a 64-63 win over Iowa in the 2006 NCAA tournament - the only win over a Top 25 team in school history.