While Texas has been using fast starts to maintain its spot atop the Big 12, Baylor has utilized strong finishes to finally meet some of its lofty preseason expectations.
The third-ranked Longhorns seek to stay unbeaten in conference play and extend their winning streak to 10 games Saturday when they host a Bears team that could greatly bolster its NCAA tournament chances with a key road win.
Texas (21-3, 9-0) has been dominant thus far in the Big 12, winning all nine conference games by double figures and establishing itself as a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Recently, the Longhorns have been overwhelming opponents early and cruising to victory. That was the case again Thursday, when they outscored Oklahoma 23-8 in the first 10:07 of a 68-52 road win.
“There is a reason they are undefeated. They’ve gone in a lot of people’s gyms and the game’s been over pretty quick,” Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. “They are playing with incredible swagger right now, that Texas team is. They punched us in the mouth early and we could never really recover.”
It was the fourth consecutive game the Longhorns were able to open a double-digit lead in the first half. They have not trailed for 184 minutes and 4 seconds dating back to the first half of their Jan. 26 victory at Oklahoma State.
Point guard Dogus Balbay, usually the fifth scoring option for Texas, keyed the early spurt against Oklahoma. He scored six of Texas’ first 10 points and finished with 12.
“It’s really important to start the game really tough and setting the tone for us,” said Balbay, who averages 5.0 points but shoots 61.5 percent.
Jordan Hamilton, who had 20 points Thursday, ranks third in the Big 12 with 19.0 points per game and 64 3-pointers.
If Baylor (16-7, 6-4) can survive Texas’ initial surge, it should feel good about its chances down the stretch. The Bears, picked to finish fourth among Big 12 coaches, has won three of four to grab sole possession of third in the conference.
Coach Scott Drew’s team picked up its first signature win with a 76-74 overtime victory at then-No. 16 Texas A&M last Saturday, then held off Nebraska 74-70 as LaceDarius Dunn scored 20 of his 24 points in the second half.
“I was just trying to get a spark going,” said Dunn, who hit 12 of 13 free throws to offset a 5-for-13 effort from the field. “The second half, I knew I had to take it to another level on both ends of the court. And I just tried to be more physical and make plays.”
Dunn, averaging a conference-best 20.7 points, made plenty of plays in helping Baylor beat the Longhorns three times last season, averaging 20.3 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 50.0 percent. The senior guard, though, has shot 9 of 30 and averaged 13.0 points in three games at Texas.
The Longhorns are 84-27 at home versus Baylor and lead the 105-year-old rivalry 155-79. However, they have lost the last four meetings, including defeats in each of the last two conference tournaments, after winning 24 in a row.