When Baylor lost at home to Texas on Jan. 25, the Bears’ season was spinning out of control.
Baylor was in the midst of losing seven of eight games, including five in a row, and had quickly gone from a top 10 title favorite to a Big 12 afterthought.
Texas, meanwhile, was rolling in the middle of a seven-game win streak and had moved into the top 20.
How the tide has turned before the team’s rematch at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Frank Erwin Center in Austin.
Baylor (18-9, 6-8 Big 12) has won four consecutive games while Texas (20-7, 9-5) has lost its last two.
“We obviously went through a tough stretch there,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “When you start to lose, if people start pointing the finger and blaming others. That doesn’t help turn things around. The leaders, the upperclassmen on the team never did that.”
Plus, Drew said, point guard Kenny Chery recovered from a two-week bout of turf toe that had slowed him.
“That definitely affected the team when you take a point guard, especially, out of the equation,” Drew said. “He played in some games but in hindsight we probably should have kept him out.”
Most important, though, the team stuck together.
“Practiced a little bit harder, a little bit longer, a little bit better and just kept believing and never really became divisive or focused on other people,” Drew said.
The No. 24 Longhorns aren’t exactly spiraling as the Bears did earlier in the season. Their two losses last week came on the road to No. 15 Iowa State and No. 5 Kansas, teams that are a combined 13-1 at home in Big 12 play this season. Texas coach Rick Barnes said he’s not surprised by Baylor’s resurgence.
“They certainly have the personnel and talent to beat anybody,” Barnes said. “They have some awesome wins this year and teams go through those slumps. But I think everyone knows how dangerous they are. They’ve got an inside attack, they’ve got an outside attack, they’re long. They present a lot of problems in a lot of different ways and certainly offensively they can put up some points.”
Only two teams have winning league records on the road — Kansas and Oklahoma. Two teams with postseason aspirations, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, were 1-6 on the road before Monday. The Wildcats (18-9, 8-6) are at Texas Tech (13-14, 5-9) at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The road records for the majority of the league probably says more about the overall toughness of the Big 12 than the teams’ struggles to find success away from home.
“For the most part, nine games are tough and even TCU becomes tough because mentally you have to get ready for them, especially at home they’ve been very competitive with teams,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said. “There are no days to rest, there are no games where you feel like you can go a little bit on cruise control and still get a win. It takes a toll on you mentally.”
Even when a team plays well, victory is not certain on the road. That’s what happened to the Wildcats at Baylor on Feb. 15. K-State lost a “heart-breaker” in double overtime despite the team doing everything Weber asked.
“We defend well at home and we don’t have the same energy on the road and we have to see if we can find it,” Weber said.
A Big 12 team with a league record below .500 has never earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament. But several schools could change that in a few weeks. Baylor and Oklahoma State could both finish strong and be 9-9 or better in the league, but what if they don’t? Should their overall records and nonconference résumés trump a sub-.500 league mark?
“I do think there’s a very good chance [for an NCAA berth] if you have a sub-.500 record based on who you played in the nonconference and the strength of schedule. I think there’s a good chance that will happen this year,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.