Stepping out of conference could help Baylor get back on track. Doing the same might not make a difference for struggling Massachusetts.
The 25th-ranked Bears look to bounce back from their latest loss by trying to hand the Minutemen a fifth consecutive defeat Saturday in the schools’ first-ever meeting.
Baylor’s days in the Top 25 could be numbered after losing for the second time in three games, 81-75 at No. 3 Kansas on Wednesday. Though the Bears (14-3) made the Jayhawks earn their 53rd straight victory at Allen Fieldhouse, they dropped to 2-2 in the Big 12 with their eighth consecutive league road loss.
Baylor has a good chance to regroup, though, while trying for an 11th straight home victory in this matchup of the last two NIT runners-up. Massachusetts (7-11) is 0-6 on the road this season.
The Bears, averaging 84.6 points on 51.6 percent shooting in nine home contests this season, have won eight consecutive non-conference games since losing 79-76 to Alabama at the Old Spice Classic on Nov. 26.
Though Baylor shot 52.1 percent and was tied with a little more than three minutes left at Kansas, the 20 turnovers the Bears committed ultimately contributed to the loss. Averaging 14.5 turnovers per game, Baylor committed 18 in a 78-71 loss at Colorado on Jan. 12.
“It’s really frustrating,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “The good thing is we know an area where we can improve. In our two losses, we’ve had turnovers and that’s something we need to work on.
“We haven’t had turnover issues all season long, so I credit the Big 12 and the atmosphere maybe played into some of that. Now we know how we can improve and how we can get better.”
The familiar atmosphere of the Ferrell Center should help as the Bears try to focus on UMass before facing 10th-ranked Kansas State and current No. 1 Texas next week. That friendly environment could also provide a perfect backdrop for another big night from star guard LaceDarius Dunn, who’s second in the Big 12 averaging 19.5 points per game.
A 43.0 percent shooter on the season, Dunn is making 52.4 percent of his shots while averaging 25.8 points in his last four games after scoring 27 at Kansas.
The Minutemen, 1-4 in the Atlantic 10, are averaging 65.3 points on 39.5 percent shooting in their last three games. Despite shooting 41.5 percent, UMass remained competitive in a 70-69 loss to St. Bonaventure on Wednesday.
“It’s real frustrating man, because everyday at practice we come out and work hard and we learn,” said senior guard Ricky Harris, who’s averaging 17.3 points this season and had 22 on Wednesday. “We play hard in practice and we just can’t find a way to close out games.
“But we’ve got a good group of guys here. We’re all still sticking together, we’re all still hanging in there together and hopefully we’re going to find a way to get this rolling.”
The Minutemen are 0-2 against Top 25 teams this season after losing 106-68 to then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 28, and 76-64 at then-No. 16 Temple last Saturday.