No. 6 Baylor braces for red-hot Oklahoma

Oklahoma State returns to Stillwater, Okla., on Wednesday on a five-game winning streak and ready to face No. 6 Baylor, which lost its last two contests.

The Bears (20-3, 7-3 Big 12) are on their first losing streak of the season after falling at No. 3 Kansas and at home to Kansas State last week.

“We have an experienced crew,” Baylor guard Jake Lindsey said. “We’ve been through ups and downs. A lot of us have lost big games, so I think we know how to respond.”

The main reason why the Cowboys (15-8, 4-6) turned their season around after losing their first six Big 12 games is their rebounding and defense (fourth in the Big 12 with 8.3 steals per game).

“Primarily, we’re going to see man-to-man,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “What they’ve adjusted is from the denial to a more pressure and gap defense. They’ve been really sound defensively, and they’ve done a good job of controlling the glass.”

Oklahoma State outrebounded West Virginia 30-16 on Saturday after the Cowboys had a 44-31 rebounding advantage against Oklahoma in the previous game. Oklahoma State is third in the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage and fourth in defensive rebounding percentage.

They haven’t finished in the top half of the league in defensive rebounding since 2012-13. They haven’t been that high in offensive rebounding since 2004-05. Oklahoma State is rebounding 42.8 percent of its misses in the last five games.

“I think it’s emphasis,” Cowboys coach Brad Underwood said. “All we’re trying to do is emphasize it every single day. Like I said earlier, rebounding can impact so much.

“We’re talking about it and we’ve got guys willing to do it.”

The rebounds are not mostly coming from the post players. Jeffrey Carroll, a 6-6 guard, leads the Cowboys averaging 7.1 rebounds. Forwards Mitchell Solomon (4.9) and Leyton Hammonds (4.8) are the next highest rebounders.

In Oklahoma State’s first meeting with Baylor, the Cowboys won the rebounding battle 35-30. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds. They still lost 61-57 on a poor shooting night that included nine missed free throws.

Oklahoma State faces a stiff test against Baylor, which has the best rebounding margin of any Big 12 team in conference play. The Bears outrebound opponents by 7.6 per game in conference play.

Johnathon Motley, a 6-10 forward, leads Baylor with 9.8 rebounds. Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., a 7-0 post player, averages 7.1 rebounds. Motley, a finalist for the Karl Malone award for best college power forward, also leads the team with 16.2 points.

The Cowboys are led by an experienced backcourt of senior Phil Forte III, junior Jeffrey Carroll and sophomore Jawun Evans. They each average double figures in scoring.

Evans, the Cowboys’ point guard, is projected as a first-round NBA draft pick. He leads the team in scoring at 18.3 points and assists at 5.4.