Amid Criticism, Baylor Proves Its Manhood

Posted by dnspewak on March 8th, 2012

Danny Spewak is a Big 12 Microsite writer and will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the Big 12 Tournament from the Sprint Center in Kansas City this weekend. He filed this piece after Baylor’s 82-74 victory over Kansas State. You can follow him on Twitter @dspewak.

On the first possession of the game, the man they call “soft” rose high into the air, catching a pass from point guard Pierre Jackson to slam home an alley-oop from the left side of the rim. The team they call “soft” played so tough on Thursday it actually made Frank Martin speechless as he sat on the bench in the final minutes with his chin resting on his left hand in dismay. Baylor isn’t supposed to play like this, not against a Kansas State team that prides itself on physicality and intimidation. And Perry Jones isn’t supposed to play so aggressively, not after every member of the mainstream media ripped him to pieces these past two years for failing to reach his potential. He’s supposed to back down in the face of pressure, especially against a seven-foot behemoth like Jordan Henriquez in the post. But Jones looked every bit like a future NBA lottery pick after that alley-oop just ten seconds into the basketball game. It didn’t matter who guarded him or where he was on the floor. It didn’t matter whether he pulled up from three, from 15 feet or from two inches under the basket. Jones swished everything, scoring 21 of his 31 points in the first half. “I guess I was just in a zone today,” Jones said. “Just being aggressive and more assertive.”

Baylor Played Like Men on Thursday. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas State looked helpless against Jones and the rest of the Bears’ half-court offense, which Jackson ran by controlling tempo and finding the open man. He finished with eight assists and added 13 points, wowing the Sprint Center crowd with his quickness from end to end. On Thursday, Baylor was the team that dove for loose balls, hustled for offensive rebounds and earned deflections on the defensive end. Backup point guard A.J. Walton, still an important part of this team despite losing his starting spot to Jackson, tallied four steals and harassed the Wildcats all afternoon. “I thought A.J. was huge tonight,” coach Scott Drew said. “Defensively he did a very good job, and those four steals were huge. He guarded without getting in foul trouble.”

Usually, it’s Martin’s teams who outwork opponents. But besides Henriquez, who scored 22 points and attacked the glass with ferocity, these Wildcats looked uncomfortable in front of a rather partisan crowd in Kansas City. Even Henriquez couldn’t guard Jones, as if anybody could on Thursday. They let him take every shot he wanted, and they never provided any resistance to any of his teammates by allowing the Bears to shoot 62.5 percent in the second half.  “Defensively, we were so selfish today,” coach Frank Martin said. “We didn’t help each other. We didn’t go rebound the basketball. They came after us and we really never punched back.”

But don’t blame everything on Kansas State. On Thursday, the Bears looked more like the team that earned a hard-fought, tough victory in Manhattan– not the team that fell to the Wildcats at home by a point in February. They looked good doing it, too, sporting lime green jerseys. “Maybe it was the uniforms,” Drew said. “We saw who we were passing to.”

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