Any thoughts Baylor had of running unscathed through last season’s Big 12 tournament were ended by Missouri. In Saturday’s rematch, the 24th-ranked Bears host a much different Tigers team than the one that cost them a spot in last year’s NCAA tournament.
After finishing 5-11 in conference play in 2008-09, ninth-seeded Baylor defeated Nebraska, 11th-ranked Kansas and Texas to become the lowest-seeded team to advance to the Big 12 championship game in 13 years. The Bears, though, failed to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, falling to 14th-ranked Missouri 73-60.
While Baylor bounced back with a runner-up finish in the NIT, it may be seeking redemption from that defeat to the Tigers. The Bears (18-5, 5-4), however, won’t be facing the Missouri trio of DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence, who combined for 46 points and 18 rebounds in the Big 12 title game before guiding the Tigers to an NCAA regional final.
With nearly 50 percent of last season’s scoring gone to graduation, Missouri coach Mike Anderson is leaning heavily on sophomores Kim English, who averages a team-high 14.8 points, Marcus Denmon (11.1) and Laurence Bowers (10.8). The last time the top three scorers for the Tigers (18-6, 6-3) were underclassmen was 1999-2000.
Baylor, seeking its third straight home victory over Missouri, will look for another big effort from junior guard LaceDarius Dunn, who is scoring 18.7 points per game - third in the Big 12.
Dunn, who scored 11 on 3-of-17 shooting in last season’s Big 12 championship, had a team-high 19 in a 55-53 victory at Nebraska on Wednesday. The Bears won for just the eighth time in their last 55 conference road games.
“Any road win in the Big 12 is to be cherished,” said Scott Drew, one win shy of becoming the fifth coach in Baylor history to reach 100. “They are always hard fought. It can be by one point or 30 points. They’re huge.”
Junior forward Ekpe Udoh has been huge for the Bears. The Michigan transfer is one of three players in the Big 12 averaging a double-double and is fifth nationally with 4.2 blocks per game.
After blocking six shots against the Cornhuskers, Udoh is two shy of setting a single-season Baylor record with 99. He will likely be matched up with Bowers, who posted his second double-double in three games with 10 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in Wednesday’s 65-56 victory over Iowa State.
The Tigers, who lead the nation in steals (11.7) and forcing turnovers at 20.7 per game, likely need a superior defensive effort to slow down Dunn, Udoh, senior guard Tweety Carter (16.2 ppg) and a Bears team that’s 11-1 at home.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge going down there to Waco. It’s a big game,” Anderson said. “We’re going to get these guys ready for a very good ranked basketball team.”
Missouri has won two straight against Baylor and leads the all-time series 12-9.