It's hard to criticize a team for losing on the road in the Big XII, and even more so when it's on the country road to the place where the Mountaineers belong.
The conference leading West Virginia (19-4, 8-2) has only one loss at home that came in a bizarrely ugly Texas matchup. Opposite the loss column, it has collected four conference home wins, including over then no. 1 Kansas. They have the best defense by efficiency in the Big XII, and the 5th best offense, despite poor free throw and three-point shooting. They are balanced, deep, and well coached. Losing in their arena should be little shame for visiting teams.
Yet, the performance that Baylor (17-6, 6-4) put forward was underwhelming, even though they did a few things right.
The Bears succeeded in two key areas: turnovers and offensive rebounding. Scott Drew relied heavily on three guard lineups to limit the turnover problem West Virginia's press poses. The result was a mere 10 turnovers, below Baylor's average of 12 turnovers given up and West Virginia's 19 forced. The steady ball control paired with the extra possessions won on the offensive glass (17 Oreb) should have resulted in plenty of points for the Bears, especially considering the spacing and passing provided by the three guard lineups.
For a while, those factors kept Baylor in the game. The score was 23-28 at the final TV timeout of the first half, and a quick Taurean Prince (10 pts, 8 reb) basket made it 25-28 with just over 3 minutes remaining. Two threes set up by Jevon Carter (7 pts, 8 ast) helped stretch West Virginia's lead to 9 at halftime, and the closest it would get for the rest of the game was a 7 point difference in the final minute before Baylor resorted to intentional fouls to extend the game.
Drew's intention with the three guard lineups was two-fold. The first purpose was to have enough ball-handlers on the floor to handle the tight defense. When Prince or Ish Wainright were playing at power forward, that gave Baylor four reliable ball-handlers. The second purpose of having that many smalls on the floor was to juice up the passing, which would then lead to cleaner looks inside and out. Those looks showed up to a certain extent. Baylor had open shots throughout the game, but the shot making was at such an abysmally low level that even the cleanest shots wouldn't fall. The Bears missed open layups, both in transition and the half court. King McClure, Baylor's best offensive player in this game, bricked a layup in the first half that would have put Baylor up 15-13. Rico Gathers, who has shot 55% at the rim on put-back attempts, was an egregious 1-9 from the floor, despite 5 offensive rebounds. In total, Baylor had 14 missed layups against only 9 made. West Virginia missed only 8.
The other area where Baylor's offense failed it was in passing. Baylor averages nearly 20 assists per game. West Virginia limited that to only 10 last night, including the 4 assists that set up the only made threes by the Bears. You see, while Baylor managed to limit its turnovers, that was as much a product of not passing as it was smart passing. West Virginia's ball denial in the half court was superb, which successfully tempted Baylor's perimeter players into trying to take their defender one-on-one. While this did draw a number of blocking penalties, it failed to create quality shots or draw shooting fouls. WVU finished under their average 23 fouls per game with 21, and Baylor's free throw rate (free throws attempted per field goal attempt) of 41.9 fell well short of the 57.6 the Mountaineers have allowed in conference play.
The other casualty of Baylor's lack of passing was its post players. Johnathan Motley, who averages 7 two-point attempts per game, was 1-1 from the floor in 17 minutes. Gathers had only two layup attempts that were not preceded by an offensive rebound. Terry Maston was the only big who had any sort of success, finishing 4-5 for 10 points, but he only saw 8 minutes as Baylor was scrapping to come back in the second half.
Baylor was unable to score efficiently on the most efficient shots in basketball (free throws, layups, and threes), and that doomed them almost as much as West Virginia's own shooting success. For the fifth time in six games Baylor's opponent made above 40% of their three-point attempts. In this game WVU was 7-14, and Daxter Miles Jr. a scorching 4-5. Meanwhile, his teammate inside, Devin Williams, was 6-12 from the field and 4-6 from the free throw line. The Mountaineers cut up Baylor's zone for 20 assists on 27 makes. It's tough to win at a high level when your defense can't disrupt what the other team is doing on offense, and Baylor's zone is growing increasingly inert when facing quality opponents.
Wainright and King were both 2-2 from three and finished with 11 points each. Prince's 10 points all came in the first half as he shot 5-17 and 0-5 from three. Lester Medford generated only 3 assists and was himself 0-5 from deep. Baylor isn't going to win a lot of games when its three best offensive players are McClure, Wainright, and Maston.
Drew's game plan seemed sound, but his players settled too often on offense and couldn't create enough disruption on defense to stop West Virginia's shooters from going off. Winning in Morgantown is a tall task this season, but Baylor's players simply did not execute Drew's plan well enough to compete.
Baylor's next game will be in Manhattan Wednesday against Kansas State (14-9, 3-7), who will be fresh off an upset of no. 1 Oklahoma. No rest for the weary in the Big XII.
|Rico Gathers, F||25||1-9||0-0||3-4||5||2||7||0||1||0||0||1||5|
|Taurean Prince, F||29||5-17||0-5||0-0||4||4||8||1||0||0||3||3||10|
|Al Freeman, G||22||3-8||0-2||0-1||2||4||6||0||0||0||2||3||6|
|Ishmail Wainright, G||27||4-5||2-2||1-2||2||2||4||1||3||0||2||4||11|
|Lester Medford, G||29||2-11||0-5||5-7||2||1||3||3||2||0||1||4||9|
|Terry Maston, F||8||4-5||0-0||2-2||1||4||5||0||0||0||0||1||10|
|Johnathan Motley, F||17||1-1||0-0||1-2||0||2||2||1||0||3||1||2||3|
|Jake Lindsey, G||19||2-2||0-0||0-1||0||1||1||3||0||0||1||5||4|
|King McClure, G||24||2-4||2-2||5-7||0||0||0||1||1||0||0||4||11|
|West Virginia Mountaineers|
|Nathan Adrian, F||32||4-9||1-2||2-2||2||7||9||2||1||0||0||3||11|
|Devin Williams, F||35||6-12||0-0||4-6||2||5||7||2||1||0||1||2||16|
|Esa Ahmad, F||16||0-2||0-0||0-1||0||0||0||3||0||1||1||2||0|
|Jevon Carter, G||34||2-7||0-3||3-4||2||1||3||8||1||0||2||3||7|
|Daxter Miles Jr., G||30||6-8||4-5||4-8||0||4||4||2||1||1||2||2||20|
|Brandon Watkins, F||4||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||1||0|
|Elijah Macon, F||9||1-3||0-0||0-0||2||3||5||0||0||1||0||1||2|
|Teyvon Myers, G||1||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jaysean Paige, G||20||6-11||1-2||4-4||1||2||3||2||0||0||1||4||17|
|Tarik Phillip, G||19||2-3||1-2||2-3||0||3||3||1||0||0||0||3||7|