Reggie Hearn and Brady Heslip (Getty Images)
Baylor became the first team in almost four years to defeat Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Northwestern lost at home on the same day to an Illinois-Chicago team that has dropped a combined 46 games the past two seasons.
Surely the Bears had no trouble handling the Wildcats at home three nights later, right? Well, not quite.
In a result that epitomizes the unpredictability of college basketball, Northwestern upset Baylor 74-70 on Tuesday night. The Wildcats built an 18-point second-half lead and still led by 11 with three minutes to go, but the Bears implemented a full-court press to whittle the lead to two in the final seconds.
What the loss provides Baylor is another hard-earned lesson about the importance of respecting every opponent and playing with maximum effort in every game. The Bears previously lost at home to Charleston, another team not even in the same stratosphere as Baylor talent-wise.
Baylor probably would have delivered an early knockout punch to Northwestern too had it played with the same intensity the entire game as it had during its second-half charge in the closing minutes. Instead, the Bears were crushed on the glass and lost focus guarding backdoor cuts or closing out on shooters.
The effort level was certainly there from Northwestern, which actually resorted to taunting during its second-half spurt to build the lead. The Wildcats badly needed a signature win after getting beat by Maryland and scoring just 44 points in the loss to Illinois-Chicago.
Now Northwestern can root for Baylor and hope the youthful Bears have learned not to take any nights off.
Between Pierre Jackson, Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, Baylor has as much talent as almost anyone in the nation. Nonetheless, they're not good enough to beat even middling opponents if they're not trying hard every game.
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