Baylor-West Virginia Preview
After struggling against an aggressive defense in its last game, Baylor now must face the nation's most press-happy team.
It's a scenario the No. 15 Bears have successfully handled in the past, however, which should breed confidence heading into Saturday's visit to 14th-ranked West Virginia.
Baylor (17-5, 6-3 Big 12) enters this key Big 12 matchup off its worst offensive showing of the season, held to season lows in points and shooting percentage in Monday's 67-59 loss to resurgent Texas. The Bears finished at 35.2 percent and had 11 turnovers resulting in 18 Longhorns' points to fall out of first place in the competitive league race.
"Our points off turnovers was the difference, they had 18 to our seven," coach Scott Drew said.
It's an area Baylor will need to quickly improve against West Virginia (18-4, 7-2), the Division I leader in steals (10.6) and turnovers forced (19.4) per game. The Mountaineers are averaging 21.4 takeaways while winning nine of 10 at WVU Coliseum, where they've limited opponents to 57.2 points per game.
The Mountaineers forced Iowa State into 16 turnovers Tuesday, though their prowess on the glass was the biggest factor in an 81-76 road win over the No. 13 Cyclones that moved them into a tie with top-ranked Oklahoma atop the Big 12. West Virginia owned a 43-26 rebounding advantage and an 18-6 edge in second-chance points while overcoming an early 15-point deficit in one of the nation's toughest venues.
''They're very resilient,'' WVU coach Bob Huggins said of his team. ''There's a lot of things we don't do well. But they do compete.''
Both teams have excelled at attacking the boards, with the Mountaineers first nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (42.8) and the Bears third (40.2). Each possesses two of the Big 12's premier rebounders in Baylor's Rico Gathers and West Virginia's Devin Williams, who amassed a career-high 18 along with 17 points against Iowa State.
The Mountaineers aren't expected to have suspended forward Jonathan Holton, fifth in the conference at 7.5 rebounds per game, available for a third straight game, however.
Gathers averaged 16.3 points and 12.0 rebounds to help Baylor win all three 2014-15 meetings with West Virginia, including an 80-70 victory in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals and an 87-69 road win over the then-No. 15 Mountaineers. The Bears shot 52.4 percent for the series and weren't fazed by the Mountaineers' patented press, averaging just 12.3 turnovers.
West Virginia rates among the Big 12's poorer shooting teams, generating much of its points off turnovers and putbacks. The Bears rank last in the conference in field goal percentage defense (43.9) and 3-point percentage defense (36.1), though, with opponents having shot 52.7 percent overall and 46.2 percent on 3s while splitting their last four games.
"We have not been very good defensively the last few games," Drew said. "We have been able to overcome it by rebounding and taking care of the ball and doing well offensively. We will have to figure out how to get better defensively."
Baylor will have a challenge in slowing down Jaysean Paige, averaging 18.0 points on 52.0 percent shooting over his last four games. The senior guard scored 13 of his 23 points in the second half against Iowa State.