For the first time since the January 20 double overtime game against Kansas State, Baylor held its opponent under one point per possession Saturday against the Longhorns. As a team that currently stands well outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency (adjusted or otherwise), Baylor should relish every good defensive outing it has.
Johnathan Motley's 24 point, 12-13 FG outburst is the deserving individual headline. On a macro level, however, Baylor's team defense earned this victory.
Baylor's zone defense forced Texas to turn the ball over early, which led to plenty of quality transition scoring opportunities. The Longhorns average a shade over 10 turnovers per game. In the first five and a half minutes Saturday afternoon, Baylor forced 6 turnovers. That number included 5 steals, which produced 8 quick points on the other end. For the game, Baylor held an 8-2 advantage on points after steals. The Bears' transition defense was helped by its discipline with the ball on offense, and that early disruptiveness seemed to keep UT on its heels all game long.
For almost the entirety of the game Connor Lammert, who was UT's leading scorer in the last match up, hung out along the baseline 10-12 feet from the basket. He was left almost entirely alone for most of that time, too. The Longhorn guards, however, seemed reticent to make the pass down there. That reticence likely came from Baylor's early show of jumping passing lanes, as well as some respect for Taurean Prince's length and quickness. Whenever Lammert was on Prince's side of the floor, it seemed as though Prince was far too high up the floor to defend a well placed lob to UT's big man. Throughout the game, though, Prince made a habit of appearing suddenly to double in the low post, even when he seemed to far away to get back in the play. His activity and energy prevented as many passes from taking place as they broke up. He was, essentially, playing the part of a top flight cornerback that an offense would rather avoid than give a chance to make plays.
The Longhorns' ball movement was stagnant all game long, and Baylor really exploited moments when a non-passer held the ball. Scott Drew essentially made Prince Ibeh, who dominated the Bears last time around, unplayable. Every time Ibeh touched the ball, he was met with a swift double team. He would finish the game with three turnovers and just 13 minutes of playing time. While it's true that Ibeh's minutes were restricted by a second foul with 9 minutes still left in the first half, he never picked up a third foul. UT coach Shaka Smart seemed much more comfortable with reserve Shaquille Cleare (14 pts, 5 rebs) in the second half after 2 quick Ibeh turnovers.
One effect of Ibeh's absence, of course, was Motley's incredible offensive game. He lived in the paint all game. His nimbleness inside and on the move really showed itself against the slower UT frontline. Motley was quick with his decision making and repeatedly put himself in good position to score even before getting the ball.
The sequence that stands out in my mind as most emblematic of this game came just after the 6 minute mark of the first half. Near the end of the shot clock after some ball movement, the ball found itself in Ish Wainright's hands at the top of the arc, wide open. Rather than shoot immediately with only 5 seconds on the shot clock, Wainright hesitated a beat to draw a defender away from the paint, then zipped a pass inside to Motley, who had gained position right under the basket for an easy layup.
All game long Motley got into excellent position, and his teammates rewarded that by feeding him the ball as often as they could. Eight of Motley's 12 makes were assisted. With two of those makes coming on put-backs, it's clear that it was a full team effort that resulted in a career day for the big man.
I would also like to take a little space to say how well Wainright has come along this season as a glue guy. He has always had excellent passing vision, but his improved three-point shooting has unlocked his ability as a secondary playmaker. Now that defenders have to respect his outside shot, Wainright has become exceptional at utilizing the extra attention to exploit a defense in the middle of rotating towards him. The play I described above is one example of something that now happens several times a game. Wainright regularly finds teammates open on the opposite side of the floor, and his length and strength allow him to zip the ball across the court and on target. Lester Medford is Baylor's best playmaker because of his quickness off the dribble, but no one else on the team can make the passes Wainright can. He has the best vision on the team, and he is finally tapping into it late in his junior season as the rest of his skills catch up. His rebounding and defense on the wing, as well as his ability to spot minutes at the power forward position, have made him Drew's most versatile player after Prince. Against UT, Wainright blocked a Javan Felix three-point attempt (something he has now done several times this season), gathered three steals, dished out a game high 5 assists, and snagged 5 rebounds. He also lead Baylor in minutes. Wainright has finally become the reliable, all around player Drew hoped he was recruiting back in 2014. If he can take another step forward next season, Baylor might be able to survive the massive hole on the wing created by Prince's departure.
With Saturday's win in the bag, Baylor stands at 20-7 overall and 9-5 in conference. Still on the schedule are games in Waco against Kansas and West Virginia and on the road against TCU and Oklahoma. Baylor is 2 games back of Kansas for first in the conference and tied with Oklahoma and West Virginia for second. In the last week of February, the Bears still have a chance to win the Big XII and break the Jayhawks' 11 year strangle hold. It's still a distant hope at this point, but if Baylor can overcome a difficult final two weeks, a conference championship could be at the end of it. Quite a season for Scott Drew and his team.
So, get out to the Ferrell Center Tuesday night to support the Bears against Kansas!