No. 9 Baylor focused on finishing strong vs. Oklahoma

WACO, Texas — After almost two months of high-stakes Big 12 basketball, No. 9 Baylor will host Oklahoma with pride at stake, but not much more tangible reward or consequence for winning or losing.

Baylor’s chance to grab at least a share of the Big 12 championship all but left town when Kansas defeated the Bears, 67-65, on Saturday in Waco. With four games left in the regular season, the Jayhawks are a win away from claiming at least a share of their 13th straight Big 12 title, and two wins away from winning the Big 12 by themselves.

Baylor (22-5, 9-5 Big 12), which was once in the hunt for a conference championship, is now shifting its focus to the NCAA Tournament when it tips off versus Oklahoma on Tuesday night.

“You have different goals throughout the season,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Right now with us, the next goal is to finish this conference as strong as we can for one, to improve our team, but, two, help with an NCAA seed. Hopefully we can finish strong so we get some momentum going into the Big 12 Tournament.”

Meanwhile, an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament is out of reach for Oklahoma (9-17, 3-11). The Sooners’ only chance to make it past the conference tournament is to win it.

The Sooners struggled at the end of nonconference play and the beginning of the Big 12 schedule as senior guard Jordan Woodard was out of action with an upper-leg injury. He came back for the middle of the Big 12 season, but an ACL injury ended his campaign following the Sooners’ loss to Iowa State on Feb. 11.

At best, Oklahoma was counting on Woodard to guide a young team into NCAA Tournament contention. But the way things have turned out, the Sooners have sunk to the bottom of the Big 12 standings a year after reaching the Final Four.

However, Oklahoma hasn’t completely collapsed.

Last week, the Sooners defeated Texas and led Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., for most of the second half before the Cowboys took over in the final two minutes to prevail, 96-92.

In the loss at Oklahoma State, Sooners sophomore guard Rashard Odomes scored 29 points, while fellow sophomores guard Christian James and forward Dante Buford each added 13.

Woodard is the only senior to play a key role for the Sooners, so they’re getting a chance to build toward the future.

“I think, first of all, they got used to playing without Jordan when they missed him for a couple of games earlier in the year,” Drew said. “They started to develop some chemistry and rhythm, so when they did lose him again, they’d already been there before and knew what they were going to do, had confidence.

“And Coach (Lon) Kruger is a tremendous coach, keeps things very positive. With a young team, knows how to handle them and make sure they stay focused and keep improving.”

Baylor can build its case for a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the remaining weeks of the regular season. But the Bears need to bounce back from losses to Texas Tech and Kansas last week.

They also need point guard Manu Lecomte to get healthy as well. Lecomte suffered an ankle injury that limited him in the closing minutes against Kansas.

Drew said in his pregame press conference on Monday that Lecomte is doing well in the training room and should be ready to go against the Sooners.