Baylor's big men step up to earn matchup with Kentucky

ATLANTA -- The two missing men in Baylor's NCAA offensive arsenal, Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III, arrived with a vengeance Friday night in the Georgia Dome.

They announced their presence with authoritative dunks and helped carry the Bears to the school's second Elite Eight appearance in the past three seasons.

Acy did much of the heavy lifting with 20 points, 15 rebounds and a pair of posterizing slams that ignited the Baylor bench and helped the Bears outlast Xavier 75-70. Jones finished with 14 points, including six in a row at one crucial juncture of the second half, and added five rebounds in helping the Bears (30-7) make it to Sunday's matchup against No. 1 overall seed Kentucky, which beat Indiana on Friday night

Between them, Baylor's inside duo combined for 34 points after turning into offensive afterthoughts in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

During the regular season, both players were double-digit scorers. But in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, you had to combine their scoring totals to reach double figures -- barely.

With defenses double-teaming Baylor's big men, Acy (5.5 avg.) and Jones (4.5) took a back seat to hot-shooting guards Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson in the teams' first two tournament triumphs. But not against Xavier (23-13), which sought to check the Bears' outside shooters.

Acy, a senior, responded with a monster game. He made 8 of 11 shots -- including four dunks -- and led the Bears in rebounds (15), defensive rebounds (13) and desire to extend his college career long enough to play in the Final Four.

"We really stepped up our game because we know, in order for us to continue to win, we had to get more production from our front line," Acy said. "Our guards have been consistent this whole tournament, and we had to give them more help. The guys on the front line really took that personally. We needed to do a better job."

Now, they have. And Baylor is still dancing, matching the Elite Eight run of the 2010 team while becoming the first team in school history to record 30 victories in a season.

"We had thoughts at the beginning of the season that we really wanted to still be playing at this time," Acy said. "Here we are."

And there was the inconsistent Jones, being a major contributor in a big game.

The sophomore from Duncanville made 7 of 8 shots, including two dunks, and scored on three consecutive trips down the court after Xavier -- which trailed 22-4 in the early going -- pulled within 49-44 at the midpoint of the second half.

Jones admitted he could have done more but "turned down a lot of shots" to keep others involved.

"I could have been more aggressive getting to the hole. But we wanted to move the ball around, try to stay within the game plan, and use a lot of clock," Jones said. "We didn't want to run. We wanted to slow it down and get the ball in the paint."

That was where the Bears found their advantage against the Musketeers.

In addition to handling the brunt of the scoring, Acy and Jones were instrumental in helping Baylor win the battle of the boards 35-29, by limiting Kenny Frease, Xavier's 7-foot center, to three rebounds.

Xavier coach Chris Mack described Acy as "a cage rattler" whose outside shooting ability caught him off guard.

"I can take some of the offensive put-backs. But when he starts facing up and hitting jump shots, that's not what the doctor ordered," Mack said of Acy (6-7, 235 pounds). "It's not fair."

But it happened, much to the delight of Baylor coach Scott Drew and the Bears' bench.

Rest assured, none of Acy's jumpers will be remembered as fondly as any of his four emphatic slams.

Especially the one-handed dunk off an inbounds pass that Jackson described as "Blake Griffin-ish" and worthy of leading the ESPN SportsCenter highlight package.

"Quincy got dunked on earlier in the game, so he redeemed himself with that one," Jackson said. "I approve of that dunk. It was Blake Griffin-ish."

Despite a hot start (Baylor made 10 of 12 shots to begin the game) and a 67-54 lead with 2:19 remaining, Xavier cut the deficit to three points on two occasions in the final minute. Each time, Heslip made two free throws to keep the Bears in control.

Now, they're back in the Elite Eight and seeking to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1950. To Jones, who was ineligible to play in last year's NCAA Tournament, that means a lot.

"It feels good," Jones said. "Last year was a letdown. It's exciting to be in the Elite Eight... with the guys that have been here before. We're just looking to go a little further and make a little history."

With Jones and Acy back in the scoring mix, that could happen.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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