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Oklahoma Hangs on 73-71 Against Baylor's Big Rally

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In a game where Baylor didn't break double-figures until the 8:50 mark, the Bears made a fierce rally to reclaim the lead before Oklahoma and Buddy Hield closed out a senior night win in Norman.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

After falling behind 30-9 in the first half, it looked like this game would go the way of Baylor's conference opener in Lawrence. Oklahoma was red hot, and Baylor had 8 turnovers in the first 6 minutes as Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins used their long arms and quick hands to pester the Baylor guards.

It wasn't until Scott Drew switched from man-to-man defense, with which he had surprisingly opened the game, to the zone that Baylor began to settle down. That move slowed the Sooners for a couple of minutes, until Cousins and Jordan Woodard were able to find the cracks and dish to teammates on the perimeter. The man defense Baylor played in the first half lacked the attention to detail needed to contain a team as dangerous as Oklahoma. Baylor defenders were frequently caught ball watching, several times while guarding Hield himself, an inexcusable lack of focus. Often the Bears looked confused with how to handle their assignments: should they switch, how far should they help, who should pick up whom in transition. On one possession, Jake Lindsey was forced to pick up Hield, who was Ish Wainright's assignment, in transition after Woodard stole the ball from Al Freeman. Lindsey then let Hield back cut to the rim for an easy lob. That play encapsulated the issues that led to such a lopsided opening. The turnovers forced the defense to scramble, and Oklahoma thrives when its opponent is even a beat behind.

Switching to the zone helped stabilize the Baylor players. Although Oklahoma still outscored the Bears after the switched was made, it helped the Baylor players to settle into something familiar and use that to calm down on offense. It dampened OU's momentum just enough, as did another spectacular full court play from Wainright and Rico Gathers to close the half. The ease with which Wainright throws those long passes is remarkable, and Gathers' awareness to ping the ball to King McClure in the corner was excellent.

In the second half, Baylor continued with the zone for the first few minutes of the second half as Oklahoma widened the margin from 21 points to 24 in the first five minutes. At that point in the game, it seemed Baylor was absolutely sunk. Drew, however, who has shown a penchant for creativity at moments when he's been pressed this season, decided to again change the defensive scheme, this time in a much more extreme way.

The first adjustment Drew made was to go small. Very small. Johnathan Motley, coming off of three consecutive games scoring 20+ points, was not providing much positive play. He had a couple of nice blocks and rebounds, but OU didn't allow him to get clean touches in the post, and neither Motley nor Prince had any success defending Ryan Spangler on the perimeter. In response, Drew downsized to a lineup of Lester Medford, Freeman, McClure, Wainright, and Gathers somewhere around the 10 minute mark when the score was 62-45. Drew also went back to a man defense, but this time with a cohesive plan the players could execute. The Bears switched on every screen (when Gathers was not involved) to deter any drives or pull up shots, and when Gathers' man did set the screen, Gathers would show hard and briefly double the ball handler before sprinting back to his man rolling down the lane. Gathers' athleticism and mobility, as well as Wainright's ability to play power forward without being picked on defensively, changed the game for the Bears. Over the next 5 minutes, Baylor forced Oklahoma to turn the ball over 7 times. This fueled a massive 19-5 run to bring the game within 3 points. Another turnover and a minute later, Baylor would take a 68-67 lead on a Freeman layup with 3:50 remaining.

Drew's unwillingness to quit and his ingenuity to put that lineup out there almost won Baylor a game in which it trailed by 24 points in the second half. While a win would have been spectacular, that feat is still remarkable. King McClure played 22 minutes and tied Prince with a team high 17 points. His shooting from outside (3-4) and his defense in that second half stretch (3 steals) fueled Baylor's comeback. Wainright's defense on Hield in that stretch was also big. He used his big frame and long arms to poke the ball away from Hield several times this game, and he held the national POY frontrunner to 5 points from the field in the second half.

Buddy Hield's first half and a couple of free throws to seal the game for Oklahoma still tallied up to a game high 23 points, and it would be tempting to say that he carried the Sooners to a win as Woodard and Cousins struggled from the field. Spangler, however, was the most valuable player for Oklahoma in this game. His outside shooting compromised Baylor's defense for most of the first half when OU went on its run. When Baylor went small for its own run, Spangler had two offensive rebounds that turned into points, the most important leading to a Cousins jumper that gave OU the lead back 69-68 with just over two minutes to go. Spangler's 15 and 13 rebounds (8 off. rebs), were as important to OU's win as Hield's first half shooting.

It's difficult to know how to feel about this game from Baylor's perspective. The second half run was inspired, but the first half that necessitated it was equally dejecting. The Bears also failed to close out a close game for the second time in a row, frittering away its late possessions with stagnant offense that came down to Medford trying to create off the dribble. McClure's emergence was great, and if he can be that type of player in the postseason, Baylor will be a much more dangerous team. It was also good to see Baylor recover when it would have been easy to go through the motions once the deficit was so large. To some extent Oklahoma's players did become a little lethargic with such a large lead, but Baylor played with a lot of energy and fire to bring that game back. In sum: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Moving forward, Baylor will have an opportunity to avenge its loss to West Virginia on senior day early Saturday afternoon. The seniors Prince, Gathers, and Medford have done a lot for this program (and hey, even Austin Mills had a couple of moments last season) and will be the first Baylor senior class to have gone to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. That's a laudable accomplishment, so get to the Ferrell Center on Saturday to show your appreciation for all the hard work they have given to this team.

Baylor

STARTERS MIN FG 3PT FT OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
T. PrinceF 27 6-13 2-6 3-6 4 5 9 1 0 0 2 3 17
J. MotleyF 19 1-3 0-0 0-2 1 3 4 0 1 1 2 0 2
I. WainrightG 38 3-7 2-4 0-0 3 4 7 2 3 0 1 4 8
A. FreemanG 30 5-8 0-2 0-0 0 2 2 1 2 0 2 0 10
L. MedfordG 36 2-9 1-5 4-4 0 3 3 5 1 0 4 4 9
BENCH MIN FG 3PT FT OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
R. GathersF 23 3-5 0-0 2-6 1 2 3 1 1 1 2 4 8
T. MastonF 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
J. LindseyG 4 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
K. McClureG 22 7-8 3-4 0-0 0 2 2 0 3 0 2 2 17
J. AcuilF Did not play
J. HeardF Did not play
A. MillsG Did not play
M. LecomteG Did not play
W. MitchellG Did not play
TEAM 27-54 8-21 9-18 10 21 31 10 11 2 16 18 71
50.0% 38.1% 50.0%
Oklahoma

STARTERS MIN FG 3PT FT OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
R. SpanglerF 36 7-11 1-4 0-0 8 5 13 5 0 0 2 1 15
K. LattinF 24 2-3 0-0 2-2 2 1 3 1 1 0 0 2 6
I. CousinsG 39 4-11 2-5 0-0 0 5 5 4 2 0 4 1 10
B. HieldG 36 8-19 4-11 3-4 1 3 4 2 1 0 4 2 23
J. WoodardG 30 2-7 2-4 0-0 0 1 1 2 2 0 4 3 6
BENCH MIN FG 3PT FT OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF PTS
D. BufordF 14 1-3 1-2 3-4 0 2 2 1 0 1 1 1 6
J. McNeaceC 4 0-0 0-0 1-2 1 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 1
D. WalkerG 17 2-5 2-3 0-0 1 1 2 2 0 1 0 4 6
C. JamesG 0 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
A. MankinF Did not play
C.J. ColeF Did not play
A. ManyangC Did not play
D. HarperG Did not play
B. AladeG Did not play
R. OdomesG Did not play
TEAM 26-59 12-29 9-12 14 20 34 17 6 2 17 14 73
44.1% 41.4% 75.0%

via espn.com