In a bizarre set of circumstances, Baylor took a break from Big 12 play to beat up a much weaker opponent last time out.
The No. 21 Bears could find themselves back in grind-it-out-mode with 19th-ranked Oklahoma coming to town Saturday.
Baylor’s last four conference contests have come down to the wire. The Bears (14-4, 2-3) went 2-2 over that stretch, with three of those games decided by one or two points and the other going to overtime.
Baylor is set to resume its brutal conference slate after defeating NAIA foe Huston-Tillotson 81-61 on Wednesday. The Bears originally agreed to face the Rams in the middle of their Big 12 schedule with the idea that high school coach Ken Carter, who was played by Samuel L. Jackson in a movie about him a decade ago, would suit up for Huston-Tillotson as part of another planned film.
Carter was in attendance but didn’t take the court. Junior Rico Gathers instead stole the show with a career-high 25 points and Big 12-record 28 rebounds as the Bears outscored the Rams 44-25 in the second half.
Gathers is averaging 10.8 points to go with 12.2 boards per game, the second-best mark in college basketball.
"He’s strong, hard to defend, hard to guard, and he’s just a monster on the boards," Huston-Tillotson coach Thomas Henderson said of Gathers. "Oh man, he’s like a wild banshee. He’s just a monster. He’s a great player."
The Bears are 8-0 when Gathers scores at least 12 points. He was held to four on 2-of-6 shooting at Oklahoma earlier this month as Baylor was limited to 37.3 percent from the floor in a 73-63 defeat. Freshman Johnathan Motley scored a season-high 24 points for the Bears.
TaShawn Thomas led the Sooners with 24 points while Buddy Hield added 20 and a season-best 10 boards. Oklahoma has taken five of six in the series, including back-to-back road wins by a combined five points.
The Sooners (12-6, 3-3) are hoping to avoid a fourth loss in five games after falling 85-78 at No. 11 Kansas on Monday. Oklahoma erased a 20-point deficit and led by two with 3:45 to go before coming up short.
"(I) feel good about the fact that they hung together and came back out and fought and competed. You expect that, of course, and they did that," coach Lon Kruger said. "Still obviously disappointed in the end result, but you take the good from every ballgame, and fighting in the second half was definitely good, and we’ve got to build on that."
Hield stayed hot with 26 points while Isaiah Cousins added 18. Hield, leading the conference with 18.1 points per game, is averaging 26.3 on 54.8 percent shooting over the last four.
Nobody has faced more ranked opponents thus far than the Sooners, who have split eight such games. They are 5-37 on the road against Top 25 teams dating to 2001.
Baylor has gone 10-1 at home, with its only loss coming 56-55 to then-No. 12 Kansas on Jan. 7. Kenny Chery, who along with Royce O’Neale did not play Wednesday, has shot better in the Bears’ three conference losses – going a combined 18 for 37 – than in their two wins (7 for 29).
Despite his uneven shooting, Chery is averaging 18.0 points over his last four games after scoring 6.4 in the previous seven.
Baylor is holding opponents to 29.7 percent from 3-point range to rank second in the conference, just behind Oklahoma’s mark of 29.6.