It’s too early to write Baylor’s season off, but the NCAA Tournament isn’t even on the radar at this point. A chance to defend the coveted NIT title isn’t a guarantee, either.
The Bears’ struggles in the Big 12 continued Saturday night at the Lloyd Noble Center. No. 21 Oklahoma had open looks from 3-point range all night, got to more of the 50-50 balls and turned what had been a close game into a rout with an 88-72 victory.
The Bears have lost their last two games by at least 15 points after their upset win at Oklahoma State on Feb. 1. So much for that win getting them back on track.
It’s a trying time for the Bears (14-9, 2-8 Big 12) in the midst of losing seven of their last eight games, but the players aren’t ready to call it quits.
Sophomore center Isaiah Austin wasn’t a fan of addressing reporters after the game, but did his best to put this nightmarish stretch in perspective.
“It’s basketball, it’s not life,” said Austin, an Arlington Grace Prep product. “It’s a privilege to play out there on that court. We’re thankful to be out there. Right now, things aren’t going our way, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to hang our heads.”
Said junior forward Royce O’Neale: “It’s frustrating, but we’re just going to keep getting better. Just keep practicing every day and play it game-by-game.”
Baylor shot the ball well enough to win Saturday, but the defense let it down. The Bears opened the game by playing zone, which didn’t help when the Sooners started draining 3 after 3.
OU guard Buddy Hield was 5 of 6 on 3-pointers in the first half, Isaiah Cousins made both of his deep balls and Tyler Neal was 2 for 3.
Frank Booker also made a 3 midway through the first half, giving the Sooners a 26-14 lead. In all, OU went 11 for 18 from 3-point range in the opening half.
“They were just hot,” Austin said. “They were hot all game.”
Still, the Bears stayed within striking distance most of the night. Austin had arguably the best half of his career with 16 points in the first half, and the Bears pulled to within 57-52 with 13:09 left in the game.
But OU responded with an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach. The Sooners had three consecutive blocks that led to easy baskets during the run and capped it off with a layup by Hield for a 68-52 lead.
“We did a good job of moving the ball and focusing on getting good shots out of every possession,” OU coach Lon Kruger said after his team shot a season-best 53.6 percent from the field. “They don’t care who gets it. We got into a good rhythm.”
For Baylor, it marked another disappointing night. Coach Scott Drew pointed to some positives such as a low turnover total (8) and continued improvement at the free-throw line.
But he can’t be pleased that Cousins, a 6-foot-4, 186-pound Sooners guard, had more rebounds (7) than any player on his roster. Or his team shooting 38.7 percent in the second half.
Drew, though, is doing his best to keep his team focused down the stretch.
“Obviously we’re not playing like we’d like to and well enough to win in the Big 12,” Drew said. “So the only thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves, or every day try to get better. We’ve tried to get better.”