Big 12 Tournament Semifinals ThoughtsPosted by Brian Goodman on March 10th, 2012
Brian Goodman is an RTC editor. He filed this report from the Big 12 Tournament semifinals in Kansas City. You can follow Brian on Twitter at @bri_goodman.
Baylor 82, Kansas 71
The Baylor Bears have deservedly had their share of doubters all season. After starting the campaign 17-0, Scott Drew‘s team was swept by the top two teams in the Big 12 and suffered losses to the other two squads in the conference that are locks for the NCAA Tournament. While Baylor played one of its most complete games of the season in a drubbing of Kansas State on Thursday in Kansas City, the knock remained that the talented Bears didn’t have the defensive toughness, focus and heart to match up with its seemingly endless supply of tools and athleticism the other teams offered. One game doesn’t erase an entire reputation, but Baylor put a dent in that line of thinking by withstanding a furious Kansas run in front of a de facto road crowd to hold on for the win in the first Big 12 semifinal Friday night. “This was a night we grew up,” Drew later said.
The outcome derailed what hoopheads have been hoping for in a rubber match between Kansas and Missouri, but the Bears are hardly concerned with such matters. With Thomas Robinson battling foul trouble, Baylor went on a 13-4 run to take a 13-point lead early in the second half. Kansas was taxed physically, but the Jayhawks weren’t going to go down without making a run of their own, and that’s exactly what they did. Kansas answered with a 19-4 spurt, keyed by great defense from Jeff Withey and a collective effort on offense, and briefly surged ahead. “Tonight, you knew they were going to make a run,” Drew said after the game. The Bears, prone to disappointment despite a slew of young talent, were tasked with answering. Perry Jones III led the response, scoring six of his game-high 18 points to help Baylor pull ahead for good, but it was one of the overlooked Bears, Brady Heslip, who delivered with the knockout punches. A pair of threes by the sophomore guard put BU ahead for good and Drew’s biggest smile of the night came during the postseason press conference as he spoke about Heslip’s background. “He has an unbelievable work ethic (with) a good bloodline.”
On the other end of the floor, Kansas’ lack of depth was exposed with Conner Teahan, Justin Wesley and Kevin Young combining for a limited contribution of five points in 29 minutes of action. Tyshawn Taylor played virtually the entire game, as he has most of the season, and the Cousy Award finalist’s exhaustion could be seen in the closing minutes Friday night, though he wasn’t alone. After the game, Bill Self commented on the team’s waning energy level that ultimately did it in. “There were some things I think that happened tonight that probably showed a lack of toughness on our part which allowed us to be soft on key possessions, fatigue being one of them.” Now in the rare position of being back home for the Big 12 Tournament final, Kansas licks its wounds and awaits its NCAA Tournament fate. Though obviously upset with his team’s performance, Self commented, “anytime you lose it hurts, but if it makes us better next week, then it wasn’t a bad loss.”
Missouri 81, Texas 67
When shooters like Kim English and Phil Pressey get into a rhythm, there’s not much any defense can do to stop it even when others have off nights. The Texas Longhorns learned this lesson Friday night as the Tigers led comfortably for most of the game, keyed by English’s silky 9-of-10 performance from the floor and an 8-of-13 line from Phil Pressey. The duo combined for over half of Mizzou’s 81 points, and Ricardo Ratliffe played a tremendous game in the post, finishing with 18 points and 14 boards. Despite Marcus Denmon falling flat with a scoreless outing, the Tigers cruised.
With the hashtag #businesstrip epitomizing a focused and motivated outlook, English kept his poise as he did against Oklahoma State on Thursday night. Missouri head coach Frank Haith acknowledged the depth of his team, noting “Marcus Denmon is our leading scorer, but we have a lot of good players on this team. Flip (Phil Pressey) had one of those nights and Kimmie was outstanding. We’ve got other guys who can score.” While the Tigers need help from other conferences to jump up in tournament seeding, they’re well aware that any such aspirations must begin with a clean sweep in Kansas City. College basketball fans may have been licking their chops in anticipation of one last Kansas-Missouri showdown, but instead, we’ll be treated to a rematch of the 2009 Big 12 Tournament final, in which the Tigers prevailed over the Baylor Bears. Missouri swept Baylor in two regular season meetings.
Meanwhile, the Longhorns probably did enough to climb into the field of 68 by beating Iowa State on Thursday, but a win Friday would have made for a far more confident locker room. As it stands, Rick Barnes‘ team returns to Austin, where one of the top priorities will be monitoring the health of two of its top contributors. Alexis Wangmene is still healing from a wrist injury sustained against Kansas last week, and four minutes into the second half on Friday, star guard J’Covan Brown fell hard onto the court after finishing a layup. Brown lay woozy among the photographers along the baseline for what felt like an eternity before being helped to the Texas bench by training staff. Showing admirable perseverance, Brown returned to action just a few game minutes later, scoring 12 points to finish with 21.