When it rains, it pours for the Baylor Bears.
Breaking down the Baylor defense for a series of looks near the rim, Isaiah Taylor scored 27 points, and the Texas Longhorns defense suffocated the No. 24 Bears offense en route to a 74-60 victory on Saturday (Jan. 25).
The victory was the third straight for Rick Barnes' squad over a ranked opponent, a first in school history. The Longhorns (16-4, 5-2 Big 12), who started the intraconference season with two straight losses, have reeled off five straight wins and should leap into the Top 25 in next week's rankings.
Their latest, however, is perhaps their most unique. Usually rivaling Oklahoma and Iowa State for the highest-tempo team in the Big 12, Texas instead found itself thriving in a slowed-down, low-scoring slog that would seemingly benefit the Bears. The Longhorns shot 44.8 percent from the floor, but they ran many of their possessions deep into the shot clock and were prevented from getting out in transition for most of the contest.
Luckily, they had Taylor playing the best basketball of his life.
The freshman guard, who had made just six of 25 (24 percent) shots over his last three games, was consistently able to get dribble penetration against Baylor's perimeter defense. Employing a zone with Isaiah Austin manning the middle for most of the contest, Taylor took advantage of the Bears' strange decision to pressure him out to 25 feet and found himself with clear paths to the rim.
He was the only double-digit scorer of the first half with 10 points, indicative of a defensive struggle that saw the two teams shoot a combined 17-of-53 from the field. The Longhorns led 31-27 at the break, in large part because of Taylor's excellence, which continued throughout the second half despite some adjustments from Baylor.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew, who typically employs a zone, switched into man for long stretches of the second half, only to see Taylor go on more rim runs. He scored seven points just over a minute midway through the half, including a stellar and-one finish on a layup after a Brady Heslip foul. Despite Baylor having a size advantage with Austin in the middle, the Longhorns dominated the paint, with a majority of Taylor's career-high 27 points coming close to the basket.
For Drew, his day was spent making a series of adjustments that just didn't work out. The Bears' struggles on the defensive end were nothing new—they rank No. 103 in adjusted defense, per Ken Pomeroy. Indifferent defense is a staple of Drew's tenure in Waco.
It's the fact that Baylor's once-vaunted offense failed that will likely keep the team up at night. Sitting first in the Big 12 in three-point percentage and fourth in overall shooting percentage, the Bears' outside shooting was nowhere to be found Saturday.
They shot just 32.1 percent from the field, including a frustrating 3-of-17 from three-point range. It wasn't until the 8:32 mark in the second half that Gary Franklin broke the team's goose egg from beyond the arc. Heslip, shooting 48.1 percent from beyond the arc coming into the game, was 0-of-4 from deep and had just two points. Franklin was one of just two double-digit scorers with a team-high 14 points, with forward Taurean Prince coming through with an additional 12.
Down just four points at the half, Baylor allowed Texas to go up as many as 16 points in a frustrating second half. Essentially, everything that could go wrong for the Bears did—a feeling all too familiar in Waco at the moment, as noted by Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports:
Baylor gonna Baylor #Hookem— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) January 25, 2014
Ranked as high as No. 7 after a stellar nonconference slate, Baylor (13-6, 1-5 Big 12) is suddenly fighting for its tournament life. The Bears have dropped four straight games and five of six in the conference. With three straight matchups against ranked opponents coming after their Jan. 28 clash against West Virginia, there's no telling when or if Drew will be able to right the ship.
What's clear after Saturday is that there are a lot more flaws than anyone previously thought.
|F Jonathan Holmes||B|
|C Cameron Ridley||B-|
|G Javan Felix||C-|
|G Demarcus Holland||C|
|G Isaiah Taylor||A|
|F Connor Lammert||B-|
|C Prince Ibeh||C|
|G Martez Walker||C|
|G Kendal Yancy||C|
|G Damarcus Croaker||C|
|F Taurean Prince||B-|
|F Cory Jefferson||C|
|F Royce O'Neale||C|
|C Isaiah Austin||B-|
|G Kenny Chery||C-|
|F Rico Gathers||D|
|G Ish Wainright||C-|
|G Brady Heslip||D|
|G Gary Franklin||B-|
Players of the Game: Isaiah Taylor (G, Texas), Isaiah Austin (C, Baylor)
It was a good day to be named Isaiah—even if Taylor and Austin had two totally different impacts. On a day where offensive production was at a standstill, Taylor spearheaded the Longhorns' scoring while Austin did his best to prevent it whatsoever.
Their first-half battle was a microcosm of the entire game. Taylor did an excellent job of breaking the initial defense and finding his way into the paint, only to find Austin hanging in the middle ready to deflect or alter shots.
Taylor won the battle, getting out to a first-half high 10 points and shooting 4-of-10 from the field, an excellent number considering the early circumstances. The freshman guard also did a nice job of creating shots and seems to be working his way out of a slump that has overshadowed Texas' recent run.
In the second half, Baylor made a few adjustments to change Taylor's dribble drives only for those to backfire as well. It was a scintillating performance from Taylor, who will hopefully use this opportunity to buoy his confidence and get into a rhythm for the reset of the season.
As for Austin, he was the very best version of himself defensively. His length in the middle of Baylor's zone led to bad, contested shots in the first half—and at times, four Longhorns avoided the paint altogether. If it weren't for breakdowns on the perimeter, Texas would have had a far more difficult time getting points on the board.
Austin, who at times struggles to take advantage of his size, also worked down low but wasn't as successful. He's still unpolished as an offensive player, and NBA scouts are going to recoil when they see the 1-of-8 stat line. Still, there were enough flashes here for POTG honors—especially considering the dearth of other options.
Texas gets a nice little break, but that doesn't mean its schedule is getting any easier. The Longhorns host Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and No. 8 Kansas next Saturday in what could be a season-defining matchup. Baylor gets no such break. The Bears host West Virginia on Tuesday—a winnable game in the Big 12 if there ever was one.
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