Despite a lackluster effort in its last game, Baylor broke into the Top 25 for the first time this season, receiving its highest ranking in 39 years.
Coming off their first loss, though, the No. 24 Bears look to prove why they received such recognition on Saturday when they visit a Washington State team that is trying to show why it deserves a spot in the polls as well.
Baylor (6-1) lost to then-No. 19 Wake Forest 87-74 in the 76 Classic championship game in Anaheim on Sunday, shooting a season-low 32.4 percent from the field while getting outrebounded 62-38.
However, the Bears led early in the second half and trailed by only four points with under four minutes to play against an unbeaten Demon Deacons team. Keeping that game close, but more importantly a win over then-No. 14 Arizona State in the previous round of the tournament, proved to be enough to get the Bears into the Top 25 for the first time this season.
The No. 24 ranking is the school’s highest since they were No. 19 on Feb. 11, 1969. Baylor was ranked at No. 25 for two weeks last season.
“It’s an amazing compliment to our team, our fans and Baylor University,” coach Scott Drew told the Bears’ official Web site. “We’ve worked very hard to get to this point. To be ranked in the Top 25 out of 344 Division I programs is a testament to how far we’ve come as a program.”
Baylor knows though that it can’t afford another effort on Saturday like the one it had in its last game. The Bears were 8-of-31 from 3-point range and leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn, who had 27 points against the Sun Devils, was held to 12 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
“The tournament allowed us to see what we need to work on and what we already have down,” said Kenny Rogers, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds, “and hopefully prepare us more for the rest of the season.”
The Bears’ time in the Top 25 could be short-lived if it can’t bounce back against Washington State (6-1), which has the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation.
The Cougars are holding opponents to 43.4 points per game and 30.7 percent shooting, but they are facing a Baylor team which is among the nation’s highest-scoring teams (84. ppg).
Washington State rebounded from a 57-43 loss to then-No. 4 Pittsburgh on Nov. 29 with a 60-41 win over Idaho State on Tuesday.
Leading scorer Klay Thompson had 14 points in the first half - the second straight game he did all of his scoring before halftime - and Aron Baynes added 11 points and eight rebounds. The Cougars held the Bengals to 15 points in the first half, and outrebounded them 36-24.
“In the pregame I told the guys, ‘I’m tired, I’m concerned that you’re tired and you’re going to overlook this team,’” coach Tony Bennett said. “They don’t worry about how they feel or what’s ahead of them, they do what they have to do and that was my challenge to them.”
Washington State has won both all-time meetings against Baylor, including a 67-64 victory in Waco last season when the Cougars were the nation’s sixth-ranked team. The teams’ only other matchup came in 1972.
“They’re much better this year,” Bennett said. “I know coach Drew thinks he has a pretty special team. … It will test everything that we think is important on Saturday night; transition defense, contesting shots and being sound with the ball and making them work.”