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Bears Get Big Bounce Back with 81-72 win over Texas

A balanced attack and solid defense meant a big lead most of the second half

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Baylor Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

WACO, Texas — The No. 9 Baylor Bears (21-8, 10-6) earned a much needed win over the No. 8 Texas Longhorns (22-7, 11-5) in the showdown in Waco, 81-72.

This win keeps at least the hopes alive for the Bears to claim a share of the league title, though that is out of their control.

With star freshman Keyonte George sidelined with an ankle injury early in the first half and the Longhorns up big riding a 16-0 run, the Bears dug in their heels on defense and used a balanced offensive attack to claw back to a 2-point halftime lead. As Dylan Disu knocked down threes and flip shots inside, it looked like the size advantage was going to be too much for Baylor to handle.

Nevertheless, the defensive game plan by Scott Drew and the coaching staff paid off. Baylor was more selective with its switching defense, electing to drop Flo Thamba, the new program leader in games played, into drop coverage that dared Texas’s guards to shoot from deep. That effectively sealed off the inside passes that have cut up Baylor’s defense the last week and resulted in Texas actually attempting for threes (27) than Baylor (19). That certainly wasn’t what the Longhorns wanted coming into the game.

Baylor got big contributions from all over this afternoon. Thamba had a 12 & 12 game on his birthday and made 6 of his 8 free throws. Dale Bonner came in for the injured George and really took over the game in stretches. He finished with 13 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals. That include the Bonner special where he stole a weak pass at the top of the key and took it back for a lay-up. That stretched the Baylor lead to 13 points with as many minute left to play and absolutely ignited the Ferrell Center.

Jalen Bridges described today’s atmosphere as “unlimited energy” after the game. And he fed off it early and often in perhaps his most complete game as a Bear to date. He finished with a team high 17 points with 8 rebounds but had an even bigger impact on the defensive end. He recorded his season high in block with 4, just one shy of his career high, and tossed in a couple of steals as well. Bridges contributed a lot of today’s win to the defensive energy of the team, particularly after George’s exit: “Just really locked in on defense, get stops. That just changed the game for us.”

Texas coach Rodney Terry was impressed with Bridges today, particularly his early contributions.“Bridges played really terrific today for those guys,” Terry said. “Early in the first half, he was a guy that was all over the place. Offensive rebounds, scoring the basketball.“

Five Bears finished in double figures, and Coach Drew got a lot of steady play out of starting guards Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer, who finished with 14 and 9 points, respectively. Those two played 37 and 34 minutes each, which was needed with George’s absence.

After blowing consecutive first half leads, it was important to see the Bears fight their way back into a came down big early and then extend that lead in the second half. The defense held Texas at 45% FG today, a stat that would have been even better for the Bears had they not allowed Texas to make 6 of its last 8 shots with the clock winding down and a big lead to play with.

Maybe the most surprising part of the game: Baylor commanded a 15 point lead for a large part of the second half despite losing the turnover battle (21 for Baylor, 15 for Texas), the assist battle (12 for Baylor, 20 for Texas), and while attempting fewer threes. Free throws made up a big part of the difference today, where Baylor went 22-29 and Texas was just 8-12. That really reflected the energy and aggressiveness that the Bears brought to this revenge game.

Speaking on Thamba’s energy in particular, Drew said, “Lot of energy. I tell you, yesterday in practice he dunked on somebody, and I ain’t seen that maybe since his freshman year…I think he really had great juice, great passion, really worked hard.”

That juice was just what Baylor needed today to prevent a second 3-game losing streak. Now with just two games remaining in the regular season, Baylor can close out strong and position itself for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That means closing out the road games Monday against Oklahoma State strong.