After a statement game that said all the wrong things about the direction of the Baylor men's basketball program in its pursuit of more national recognition, Bears players and coach Scott Drew offered all the right answers.
They were quick to identify their midweek 68-54 home loss to No. 7 Kansas as nothing more than a one-game blip for a team that remains in the thick of the Big 12 championship race as well as the Top 10 of the national polls.
But do the sixth-ranked Bears (21-3, 8-3 Big 12) really believe their own words after a second double-digit drubbing from the Jayhawks (19-5, 9-2) in as many meetings? Can Baylor elevate its game and its psyche to the level needed to win today's 12:30 p.m. showdown against No. 4 Missouri (22-2, 9-2) in Columbia, Mo.?
"Most definitely," Baylor coach Scott Drew said when asked whether the Bears still have valid hopes of winning a Big 12 title. "We still control some things. It's a lot tougher now, no question. ... But all year long, we've had tremendous leadership. That's why we've won close games. That's why we're 21-3."
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But all three losses have come against Kansas and Missouri, including both meetings against the fellow front-runners in Waco. The Tigers are 13-0 this season at Mizzou Arena. Do the math and today projects as a tough matchup for a team with a shattered psyche.
Baylor certainly qualifies after Wednesday's reality check, when the Bears watched an early 19-9 lead disappear and failed to respond while Kansas unleashed a 34-5 run that silenced the crowd.
"Basketball is a game of momentum, and that's what I'm most disappointed in: motivating our team," Drew said after the game. "Because when we got down, we should have popped back up a lot quicker than we did."
Will there be permanent damage to the psyche of a team that seemed too fragile mentally to fight back in front of a supportive home crowd?
"No, not at all," said Baylor forward Quincy Acy, the Bears' lone senior starter. "The leaders on our team are going to do a good job so that we don't make mental mistakes that cost us the [Kansas] game."
Well said. But those are merely words. And Baylor needs actions, not words, starting with today's matchup in the Show Me State.
It is time for the Bears' tentative-but-talented big men -- forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller -- to show they can get physical against a team standing in Baylor's path to a Big 12 title. If not, there will be no title. And, by Monday afternoon, no Top 10 ranking, either.
Jones and Miller were virtual no-shows Wednesday, combining for zero field goals and a total of three points after the first 1:53 of the Kansas game. Jones (6-foot-11) and Miller (6-10) combined for five rebounds against Kansas, six fewer than Jayhawks' forward Thomas Robinson grabbed by himself. The closest thing to physical was Miller's wayward elbow that earned him a flagrant foul and a seat on the Baylor bench, at Drew's discretion, for the final 16:38.
In fairness to Miller, he stepped up with a season-high 29 points in the team's 89-88 home loss to Missouri on Jan. 21. And he played only 14 minutes Wednesday, when Drew decided to send a second-half message.
The real puzzler is Jones, the Bears' leading scorer and a potential lottery pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. The sophomore from Duncanville did not reach double figures as a scorer or rebounder in either home matchup against Missouri or Kansas. His combined line: 13 points, seven rebounds (two offensive) and a 5-of-15 shooting performance in 44 minutes against Baylor's primary roadblocks to a Big 12 title.
That won't cut it, especially now that Jones said he is back to full speed after an ankle injury that affected his play in the Bears' first matchup against Missouri. More than any other Baylor player, Jones will be under the microscope today as the Bears try to prevent Missouri forward Ricardo Ratliffe (6-foot-8, 240 pounds) from owning the paint the same way he did in Waco during a 27-point, eight-rebound performance.
If Baylor seeks a blueprint for the way to bounce back from adversity, it should study Kansas. The Jayhawks came to Waco after surrendering the final 11 points in last week's 74-71 loss to Mizzou, then fell behind 7-0 to the Bears. After that 18-0 shortfall spread over two nights, Kansas outscored Baylor 68-47 over the final 38 minutes in Waco.
"These guys really showed me something," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I thought we may pout and feel a little sorry for ourselves, and we didn't. We showed some toughness."
As a result, KU prevailed in a must-win road game. Baylor has one of those today at Missouri.
If the Bears are serious about winning a Big 12 title, they'll show everyone they are capable of getting physical against the Tigers. And not merely just talk about it.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760