Baylor spent seven consecutive weeks ranked in the Top 25 earlier this season, an impressive feat for a school that had previously spent five weeks in the rankings over the past 60 years.
That’s only how long it seems to have been since it beat Texas.
In reality, the No. 11 Longhorns have gone 11 years and 22 meetings without losing to the in-state rival Bears, a streak they’ll look to extend Tuesday night in Waco.
Texas (14-4, 3-1 Big 12) has had its way with Baylor for more than a decade, but as the Bears have emerged as a conference contender the past two seasons, they’ve given the Longhorns much better games. Four of the last five contests between the teams have been decided by five points or fewer.
With All-American point guard D.J. Augustin gone to the NBA, Texas has become more of a defensive team this season. The Longhorns are allowing 61.0 points per game, good for second in the offense-heavy Big 12.
That lock-down defense has been clearly evident in their past two wins, 71-49 at Texas Tech on Jan. 17 and 67-58 over Texas A&M on Saturday.
Yet in the win over the Aggies, it was an individual offensive performance that stood out. Junior forward Damion James had 28 points, the highest total this season by any Longhorn besides leading scorer A.J. Abrams.
“I told him, ‘I feel you’re really focused and ready to take it to another level,’” coach Rick Barnes said of James, who’s averaging 15.6 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game. “And he told me, ‘I know I need to.’
“He knows I’ll get on him in rebounding, but he’s maturing and it’s been fun watching him grow. His attitude and his approach, he had a great week in practice.”
James is averaging 19.3 points in conference play, and his improvement has been critical with Abrams struggling. Abrams averaged 20.9 points on 44.7 percent shooting in his first 10 games, but has scored 11.9 ppg on a woeful 29.2 percent from the field in his last eight contests.
“With A.J. getting all the attention we have to play off (that), but to be the team that we want to be, we have to get A.J. going because he is one of the best shooters in the country,” James said.
Abrams is averaging 16.6 points on 48.1 percent shooting - including 48.6 percent from 3-point range - in five career starts against Baylor.
Baylor (15-4, 3-2) was ranked throughout December and for the first two weeks of January, but it’s lost two of its last four to fall out of the poll.
Its latest game was its most lopsided loss in exactly two years. The Bears fell behind by 27 at halftime to then-No. 6 Oklahoma on Saturday and couldn’t recover, shooting 34.6 percent in a 95-76 blowout.
“Oklahoma really played well, especially in the first half, and by the time we got back into it, it was obviously too late,” coach Scott Drew said. “The encouraging thing for us is that we had some looks that we don’t normally have, but again, they played extremely well.”
If the Bears can get back to their typical shooting form, they should provide a stiff test for the Longhorns. Baylor shoots 48.4 percent overall from the field and 39.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, both among the nation’s top 20.
Senior guard Curtis Jerrells is averaging 20.3 points over his last six games while sophomore LaceDarius Dunn is scoring 20.0 ppg in his last five.