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Few teams in the tournament were as impressive in their first two games as the Bears. Scott Drew’s squad defeated Nebraska, 74-60, in a game it led by 21 points. Two nights later, Baylor clubbed Creighton, 85-55, ending the career of National Player of the Year Doug McDermott. The NCAA’s fifth all-time leading scorer had just three points in the decisive first half against Baylor’s zone defense and finished with only 15.
Baylor is one of the hottest teams in the field. The Bears started 2-8 in conference play before rallying to finish 9-9. They then reached the title game of the Big 12 tournament, where Drew’s team fell to Iowa State. Baylor has won 11 of its last 13 games overall.
Baylor boasts elite size, athleticism and length, which makes its zone defense stifling. Seven-foot center Isaiah Austin and 6’10” forward Cory Jefferson are playing the best basketball of their careers, and the Bears tout one of the country’s top long-range weapons in Brady Heslip, who is shooting 46.8 percent from beyond the arc.
The unsung hero, however, has been point guard Kenny Chery, a junior college transfer who has elevated his game since bouncing back from a turf toe injury that left him either sidelined or hobbled throughout much of January. Chery’s injury was one of the main reasons for Baylor’s slow start in the Big 12.