Kenny Chery and No. 20 Baylor hope this was only a preview for them in the building that will host the NCAA Final Four in April.
No. 3 Kentucky also hopes to be back in four months, with another highly touted group of freshmen that might just be good enough to do so if they learn to play together.
Chery, the junior college transfer who is Baylor’s primary newcomer, scored six of his 18 points in a go-ahead run to help lead the Bears to a 67-62 victory over Kentucky late Friday night in the Dallas Cowboys’ massive stadium.
“Every team has goals at the beginning of the year and if your goal isn’t to be in the Final Four then I’d be surprised. So having the chance to play in the venue that it’s going to be at, everyone’s going to talk about that,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “And that’s exciting. … The chance to play here really means a lot.”
The young Wildcats (7-2) had a 50-41 lead when Julius Randle, one of three Kentucky freshmen playing in their home state, had a slam dunk with 13 minutes left.
Baylor (8-1) responded with a 15-5 run when Chery came up big. The point guard’s jumper started the run and his two free throws with 6 minutes left made it 56-55 — and the Bears never trailed again.
“It wasn’t no hype to us. We’re a great program just like they were a great program,” Bears forward Cory Jefferson said. “So it wasn’t no mismatches as anybody may think. We just came out two great teams playing hard.”
Randle, who is from the Dallas area, had 16 points for Kentucky while Aaron Harrison had 15 and James Young 14 with four 3-pointers.
Isaiah Austin and Jefferson had 13 points each for the Bears, who beat Kentucky for the second straight year. Rico Gathers had 13 rebounds.
Young’s 3 with just over 3 minutes left got Kentucky within 61-60, and then he tied up the 7-foot-1 Austin for a rebound under the Baylor basket. But he missed two free throws with 2:22 left.
Royce O'Neale had a putback basket with 1:20 left, which was Baylor’s third shot on that possession.
“They outhustled us. They outworked us. They deserved to win,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Three rebounds, four rebounds down the stretch in the last 4 minutes we win the game. They got every single one of them. It’s who we are right now. Everything is based on how I’m scoring and what I’m doing and it’s not based on that part of the game, that toughness.”
Blue-clad Kentucky fans easily outnumbered those of the local team, and they will certainly multiple in numbers if they get to come back in four months when the NFL stadium will be much fuller and louder.
“For us? What you just watched? We’re just trying to win our next game and get tougher,” Calipari said when asked about playing in the stadium again in April. “That was a great crowd for us. I don’t know how these people made it here. They must have been on dog sleds or something.”
With Baylor’s football team playing at home Saturday about 100 miles away with a chance to clinch the Big 12 title, and icy conditions that made driving treacherous from the Waco campus, the crowd was under 10,000.
Plus, the game, already scheduled to start after 9 p.m. local time, started more than an hour after that. The Top 10-ranked women’s teams from the two schools played four overtimes in the opener of the doubleheader. No. 5 Kentucky beat No. 9 Baylor 133-130 in the highest-scoring Division I women’s game ever.
It was the third straight season the Baylor and Kentucky men played. Last December, the Bears won 64-55 at Rupp Arena to end a 54-game home winning streak by Kentucky, which beat Baylor 82-70 in an NCAA tournament regional final in March 2012.
Kentucky trailed by nine points early, but recovered to tie the game at 27, 29, 31, 33 and 35 before Andrew Harrison’s 3-pointer with 19 seconds left in the first half put the Wildcats up 38-35. They opened the second half with an 8-2 run.
Baylor had a 16-7 lead after Jefferson had a rebound that led to his assist on Chery’s jumper only 4:22 into the game.
The Wildcats responded with a 15-7 run, and were down by only one after Aaron Harrison’s third 3-pointer in less than 5 minutes.
Young’s 3-pointer with 7 minutes left tied the game at 27. That was the first time Kentucky hadn’t trailed since Young scored its first five points of the game for a 5-4 lead.
The other Kentucky freshmen playing in their home state were 6-foot-6 twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison from Richmond, about 4 1/2 hours south, near Houston.