WACO -- Consider Baylor forward Perry Jones III back among the healthy and dominant players in college basketball. And count the sixth-ranked Bears back among the favorites to win the Big 12 regular-season championship because of it.
Jones posted his second double-double of the week Saturday in a 76-71 victory over Texas, racking up team highs for points (22) and rebounds (14). The 6-foot-11 Jones dictated play inside to the point that he reached double figures in both statistical areas by halftime.
That's a far cry from last week, when the Big 12's preseason player of the year struggled to be effective while nursing an ankle injury in losses to No. 5 Kansas and No. 2 Missouri. Baylor (19-2, 6-2 Big 12) fell back to the pack during an 0-2 stretch marked by significant rebounding shortfalls against two of the league's top teams.
Enter Texas (13-8, 3-5), which arrived at the Ferrell Center ranked second in offensive rebounding among Big 12 teams. Jones and the Bears controlled the backboards by a 40-28 margin, limiting Texas big men Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene to one offensive rebound each.
Jones topped that figure by himself (3). Baylor's starting front line -- Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller -- combined for eight offensive rebounds and controlled a game that should not have been as close as the final score indicated.
But the Bears' backcourt committed a flurry of turnovers, helping Texas build a 20-4 edge in points off turnovers that almost trumped the progress made by the Bears' inside players.
Bottom line: Baylor coach Scott Drew will take a healthy and productive Jones anchoring a front line capable of defending the paint and controlling the backboards every night in Big 12 matchups and hope to limit turnovers over time. And Saturday marked a nice starting point.
"Perry was a lot more aggressive. He's back to being healthy," Drew said. "He's able to practice hard and that feeds into the game. I think... he's back to being what he's been."
Jones, who had a pedestrian line in last week's 89-88 home loss to Missouri (8 points, 4 rebounds, 0 offensive rebounds), acknowledged that he was motivated by discussions last week with Drew, point guard Pierre Jackson and others. He stepped up with 21 points and 12 rebounds in Tuesday's 77-65 win at Oklahoma. But he reached another gear against Texas, which fell to 0-6 in games decided by six points or fewer this season.
Jones described Saturday's turnaround as a matter of "just being aggressive and doing what my team needs me to do. And told me to do."
For Drew, it stood as a welcome sight. Especially with Acy (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Miller (18 points, 6 rebounds) doing their part to make Saturday's effort a 180-degree turnaround from the previous Saturday, when undersized Missouri pounded Baylor on the backboards 32-26 and walked out of Waco with a eyebrow-raising road victory.
"I thought defensively we were better than we were the last time we stepped on this court. We rebounded much better," Drew said. "As long as we keep improving in those two areas, we can focus on other areas later."
Like turnovers, for instance. Jackson had five of them.
Or defending skilled perimeter shooters like Texas guard J'Covan Brown (32 points), whose late salvo helped the Longhorns erase a 12-point, second-half deficit and forge a 66-66 tie with 2:53 remaining.
But the Bears immediately responded with Jackson's 3-pointer, followed by two free throws each by Acy and Jones to rebuild the lead to seven points. Texas cut it to three points before Brown unleashed a 25-footer that missed with 10 seconds remaining. The shot drew a sideline reprimand from Texas coach Rick Barnes, but Brown defended his shot selection.
"Coach said it wasn't [a good shot]," Brown said. "But he didn't see what I'd seen."
Regardless, the Longhorns left Waco without the signature victory they'll need to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee when at-large berths are handed out in March. Texas fell to 0-5 against Top 25 teams but gets another chance Monday in Austin against Missouri (19-2, 6-2).
"We have to put ourselves in position and finish it," Barnes said. "We need... to know what we're going to get every single night [from players] and we still don't have that."
Baylor, meanwhile, gained ground on Kansas (17-4, 7-1) with the Jayhawks' 72-64 loss to Iowa State on Saturday. The Bears find themselves one game off the league lead with Jones back in a productive groove and Kansas headed to Waco on Feb. 8.
That still may not be enough to help the Bears win a Big 12 title. But Baylor, thanks to a healthy Jones, looked much closer to that type of team Saturday than it did the previous week.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-776