Unselfish Play Represents a Fresh Start For Baylor

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2011

Bill Hupp is a freelance sports writer and proud Missouri alumnus living in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp) for his thoughts on college and pro hoops, food, Russian nesting dolls and life. He filed this report from Sunday’s game between Baylor and Northwestern.

With five of the nine players in their rotation standing 6’7″ or taller, it’s understandable why Baylor’s imposing interior garnered most of the preseason attention. The unknown element coming into 2011-12 was the Bears’ backcourt. It’s still early, but Baylor’s solid guard play thus far has helped vault them from a Top 25 team to their highest ranking in school history (No. 7) and the favorite to win the Big 12. Playing their first non-conference true road game in nearly two seasons against a solid Northwestern squad on Sunday, Baylor used a 19-5 run to end the first half as they coasted to a 69-41 win.

Baylor's Athletic Size and Length Confounded Northwestern (AP Photo/C. Cherney)

Baylor (7-0) spent nearly all game in an extended 2-3 match-up zone with 6’9″ Quincy Miller and 6’11” Perry Jones III on the wings.  Their length and athleticism clearly bothered the Wildcats, who shot an abysmal 24 percent from the field and had long droughts of 5:45, 6:21 and 6:37 between field goals during the game. When NU did get into the lane, 6’7″ Quincy Acy was usually waiting, swatting six of Baylor’s nine total blocked shots. That shot blocking-prowess allowed their guards to extend their zone pressure out onto the perimeter. As expected, Baylor also dominated down low on offense, outscoring the ‘Cats 46-12 in the paint.  When point guard AJ Walton wasn’t driving into the lane and tossing lobs for Acy to throw down, Pierre Jackson was getting to the basket off the bounce and scoring. The diminutive 2011 National JUCO Player of the Year has poured in at least 16 points in each of the past three games and seems to be hitting his stride in Waco.

Besides length, Baylor also has good depth and scoring balance. On Sunday, the Bears had four players finish in double figures: Jackson and Acy led with 16 points apiece, Jones had a “quiet” 12 points and guard Brady Heslip (a Canadian sharpshooter who transferred from Boston College) knocked down three triples and finished with 11. Nine players logged at least 10 minutes each against NU, and six are averaging 9.5 points per game or more. “Coach just expects us to go as hard as we can during the game, and he’ll keep bringing fresh bodies in,” Acy said. Baylor didn’t shoot it particularly well from beyond the arc on Sunday (just 22 percent), but the mere threat of Heslip should make teams think twice by doubling down in the post.

In addition to increased offensive punch, newcomers like Heslip and Jackson have improved the overall ballhandling of the team. That will be important for the Bears when they contend with conference opponents like Kansas and Missouri, who have talented, experienced backcourts (though neither team can match Baylor in the post). “The first thing is just having different options,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “We struggled last year with only a few ballhandlers. This year, we have a lot more. As long as we stay unselfish, we can shoot a high percentage.” It’s that unselfish attitude that has allowed Baylor to average 17 assists a game. A prime example: Highly-touted freshman Miller came in averaging more than 15 PPG and was playing in front of friends and family in Evanston, but the Chicago native only took two shots and dished out six assists in his homecoming.

The make up of Baylor’s backcourt seems ideal. Junior Walton doesn’t score much, but he’s a program veteran and runs the offense well. Heslip slides to the corners and hits big threes. Jackson comes off the bench and provides slashing ability and instant offense. Sunday was just the second game with Jones in the lineup.  The preseason Big 12 Conference player of year was suspended the first five games of this season for receiving improper benefits from his AAU coach. After scoring a career-high 27 points in his first game back, Jones finished with 12 points and six rebounds on Sunday. “With us getting Perry back and having a lot of new guys, I think we’ll be a much better team than we are now come February. I’ve been impressed with our unselfishness,” Drew said. “As long as we defend, play hard and stay unselfish, good things can happen.”

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