With final exams now behind them and in the midst of a season-high homestand, Baylor players want to make sure their next test is significantly easier when they face Texas-Arlington on Saturday night.
The 21st-ranked Bears (8-1) have played only two games in December, their latest being a 90-63 win over Prairie View A&M last Saturday. They had no games this week because of finals, and coach Scott Drew is hoping the lack of action doesn’t translate into rustiness.
“During finals week, coaches are always nervous,” Drew said. “When you are off of your routine of practicing it is mentally challenging, especially at an academic institution like Baylor University. The big thing is if you are going to have that energy and concentration out there.”
Playing at the Ferrell Center should certainly help keep the Bears focused and provide some timely shots of adrenaline. Baylor will be playing the second of seven straight games at home, culminated by its Big 12 opener against Texas Tech on Jan. 10.
“It is good to play at home,” senior guard Curtis Jerrells said. “As players, when you get on the road and you have everyone against you, I think that gets you more fired up. With the schedule, we have to take care of what is in front of us. With seven straight home games we are going to do what we need to do in practice to prepare for it.”
If their shooting in practice this week has come close to resembling the form they displayed against Prairie View, the Bears should be in good shape. After a slow start, they closed out the win by going 15 for their last 25 from 3-point range over the game’s last 30-plus minutes.
Henry Dugat kick-started the team with eight points in 63 seconds just before the 10-minute mark of the first half and Baylor never looked back.
“With all of us guards being aggressive and making shots, we are really hard to guard,” said junior Tweety Carter, who matched Dugat with 17 points for the game. “When we go down and get stops, then we make our shots. Like coach said, Henry got us going and we feed off of that.”
Next up for the Bears will be a Texas-Arlington (4-4) team that is 0-15 all-time against ranked opponents, the most recent loss being an 87-63 defeat to No. 1 seed Memphis in last season’s NCAA tournament. The Mavericks are 1-10 versus Baylor, with the Bears winning the last four. All 11 games were played in Waco, Texas.
While Baylor is in the midst of a season-high homestand, Texas-Arlington will be playing the fifth of 10 consecutive games on the road - the longest such stretch in the program’s 50-year history. The Mavericks have lost three straight, falling 81-68 to Marshall last Saturday.
Brandon Long came off the bench to score a team-high 20, but the Mavericks faltered down the stretch as the Thundering Herd went on a 17-4 run to close out the game after it was tied at 64.
“We came out strong in the first half and gave them our best punch,” UTA coach Scott Cross said. “But Marshall came back and gave us a right cross.”
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