Big 12 notes: Texas Tech players rallying behind Tubby Smith

Posted Monday, Feb. 17, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Big 12 Players of the Week

Co-Players of the Week

C Isaiah Austin, Baylor: The 7-foot-1 sophomore from Arlington Grace Prep averaged 16 points, 6.5 blocks, 5.5 rebounds and three assists to lead the Bears to consecutive league wins for the first time this season. He had 18 points, nine blocks and seven rebounds in a career-high 41 minutes in Baylor’s double-overtime win against Kansas State.

F Perry Ellis, Kansas: He scored a career-high 32 points on 13-of-15 shooting in the Jayhawks’ 95-65 win over TCU. For the week, Ellis averaged 25.5 points and 9.5 rebounds and shot 64.3 percent from the field and made 13-of-16 from the free throw line.

Newcomer of the Week

G Kenny Chery, Baylor: He recorded the 14th triple-double in Big 12 history with 20 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the Bears’ double-overtime win against Kansas State. It was the sixth triple-double in Baylor history and the school’s first in conference play.

Quotable

“Is that a surprise to you? — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, when told he was named to a list of the 100 sexiest basketball coaches.

“We were 16-2 at one time, playing very good basketball. We’ve proven it against some very good basketball teams; we’ve proven we can do it. Thank goodness we have some of those wins in our pocket. Thank goodness we were 16-2. But we do understand we need some more wins and we need to play better.” — Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, whose team has lost seven in a row.

Key stat

76.6 Big 12 teams’ scoring average, the most of any conference in the country.

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You would think a coach with a history of winning such as Tubby Smith wouldn’t need to do much to inspire his players.

For the most part, Texas Tech’s Smith probably had instant respect before this season began, his first with the Red Raiders.

But he had to get senior forward Jaye Crockett on board, Smith said, so that the rest of the team would follow. Smith is Crockett’s fourth coach at Tech and had to be spinning when another coach, albeit a legendary one, was coming through the door.

“It starts with him, I think,” said Smith, who has helped the Red Raiders (13-12, 5-7 Big 12) become a pesky thorn to the league’s powers this season. “He was the one you had to convince.”

Smith said he talked with Crockett about this being his final season and buying into a new coaching philosophy, again.

“I said, ‘Where do you want to go with this?’ ” Smith said. “And he has shown remarkable resiliency and coachability that is contagious. If your best player is willing to be led, then it makes a world of difference, and he has been a difference maker.”

The Red Raiders host No. 8 Kansas (19-6, 10-2) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at United Spirit Arena. Tech’s ability to beat tough league opponents at home, including Baylor and Oklahoma State, was backed up with a win at Oklahoma last week. Tech had won three consecutive games before losing at Iowa State on Saturday. The wins have helped bolster fan interest in Lubbock.

“It’s helped. Everybody likes a winner,” Smith said. “We’ve tried to reach out to the student body and spend time with them and do whatever we can to promote the games.”

Defense was a liability at ISU, but the team’s toughness, with the help of preseason drills designed to toughen players, has shown up during Big 12 play.

“We’ve been able to play better defensively,” Smith said. “We’re getting tougher. That’s what we’ve done well and if we can continue to recover from a poor defensive effort Saturday, then we’ll give Kansas a good run.”

Kansas coach Bill Self has noticed how hard the Red Raiders are playing under Smith.

“When Tubby says something [to players] he can back it up,” Self said. “ ‘Hey, this works, we’ve proven that.’ I think that gets kids’ respect.”

Smith’s team has already eclipsed last year’s Red Raiders under interim coach Chris Walker, who took over when Billy Gillispie resigned in September 2012 amid allegations he overworked the team. Last year, Tech finished 11-20 and 3-15 in the Big 12.

“They’re a lot better,” Self said. “They’re guarding and they’re patient offensively and they’re having a lot of fun. They play ridiculously hard. I mean, they’re really getting after it. I bet you they’re leading the league in floor burns.”

Baylor breaking out

Baylor has won three consecutive league games for the first time this season after Monday night’s overtime win against Oklahoma State in Waco.

Bears’ coach Scott Drew knows his team has to keep winning to have a shot at earning an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

“I think anytime you win, it does help with confidence,” he said. “Players are always in a better mood and more focused. Coaches are obviously more excited and I know fans are.

“Hopefully, we can build on that momentum.”

It’s not going to be easy for Baylor, which finishes with three of five on the road, including at West Virginia, Texas and Kansas State.

“We know we need to win a bunch of games, not just two,” Drew said.

Embiid back

Kansas center Joel Embiid, who has had a few nagging injuries, should play Tuesday at Texas Tech. Embiid, who is averaging 10.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, missed Saturday’s game against TCU.

“Joel practiced with us yesterday with no problem,” Self said. “We certainly anticipate him practicing [Monday] and playing [Tuesday].”

Smart’s return

Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart will return from a three-game suspension Saturday when the Cowboys host Texas Tech at 12:30 p.m. in Stillwater, Okla.

OSU coach Travis Ford said Smart has handled the ordeal well and has led the scout team during practice.

“I’ve been proud how he’s handled it,” Ford said. “He’s played probably his best practices he’s had all year long.

“His attitude has been good. We’ve continued to talk to him, mentor him and counsel him during this whole situation.”

Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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