There will still be plenty on the line for No. 11 Baylor and reeling Texas when the two teams square off to end the regular season on Saturday afternoon at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Tex.
Baylor heads south down I-35 into the state capitol on the heels of a 71-62 win over No. 10 West Virginia on Monday that was just the Bears’ second victory in their past five games. Baylor (24-6, 11-5 in Big 12 play) can finish the regular season with 25 victories, which would tie the mark for the most regular season wins in program history (2012).
With a win in Austin on Saturday, Baylor will finish third in the Big 12; a loss gets the Bears the fourth seed in the Big 12 Tournament. Baylor can’t fall lower than fourth.
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“It’s been a tough February — that’s the Big 12,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the win Monday. “The big thing is we’ve got to get healthy and that’s first and foremost. Because I tell you what, as us coaches figured out a long time ago, we’re better coaches when we have all our players healthy.”
A fourth-place conference finish for Baylor means having to play Oklahoma State, which has won 10 of its past 12 games and is cemented in the fifth seed. Baylor beat the Cowboys earlier this season in a game where the Bears made a ton of 3-point shots, but it can’t count on that to happen again so avoiding Oklahoma State is a huge plus.
Junior forward Johnathan Motley has scored in double figures in 13 straight contests, leading the team in scoring 10 times. He is averaging 20.8 points and 10.5 rebounds during the 13-game span and leads the Big 12 with 12 double-doubles and 9.7 rebounds per game and ranks third with 17.5 points per game.
On Wednesday, Motley was names as one of 10 semifinalists for the 2017 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year Trophy, fellow Big 12 Conference players Kansas’ Josh Jackson and Frank Mason III as those still in consideration.
Motley was a huge part of the Bears’ win over West Virginia, scoring 23 points, taking eight rebounds and recording three blocks while converting all 11 of his free throws attempts.
“I was attacking more and making quicker moves and once I got to the free throw line it all started coming together,” Motley said. “I was just being aggressive.”
The Longhorns (10-20, 4-13) can exorcise plenty of demons if they can find a way to beat Baylor. Texas has lost six straight games, the latest a 77-67 defeat at Texas Tech that continued its woeful, winless season on the road. The Longhorns can finish no better than ninth in the 10-team Big 12 Conference.
Texas has had 14 of its 30 contests this season decided by five points or less, including 10 by three points or fewer. Seven of the Longhorns’ eight conference home games have had margins of four points or less.
“Obviously, we are a long way away in terms of our record — if it is possible to be close and be a long way away, that’s what we are,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “I think our guys hopefully have been able to internalize this lesson of ‘every second matters, every possession matters, every play, every pass matters.’ We’ve got a chance if our guys can make a lot of strides to be much better long-term.”
Texas freshman forward Jarrett Allen has been a bright spot for the Longhorns. He’s had a double-double in Texas’ past two games and four times in the past six contests while shooting 61.5 percent and averaging 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds during that span.
Allen has led the Longhorns in scoring in 11 of the past 15 outings and has posted double-digit point totals 22 times this year. He has grabbed at least seven rebounds in 17 of his last 19 contests.
“(Allen) is more competitive than you might think just in seeing him in terms of his personality — he’s got a laidback personality,” Smart said. “He likes to compete. Playing against older, stronger guys has been an adjustment for him. He is way better at in than he was at the beginning of the year.”