No. 5 Texas (22-10, 9-7) vs. No. 9 Baylor (19-13, 5-11)
Friday, March 13 at 7:00 p.m. EST
Spread: Texas -3.0
Backcourt Advantage: Even
Sophomore guard LaceDarius Dunn (15.2 PPG) stepped up huge against top-seeded Kansas in the second round. Dunn scored a game-high 24 points, shooting 9-for-16 from the field including 6-for-11 from behind the arc as the Bears won 71-64.
Baylor raced out to a 30-13 lead in the first half after senior guard Curtis Jerrells (16.3 PPG) knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing. Dunn already had 11 points and three 3-pointers at this time when Kansas called the timeout. Kansas then went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to just 37-33 at halftime.
The Jayhawks took the lead in the second half before Dunn fueled a decisive 12-0 run that put Baylor in the lead for good with three and a half minutes left to play.
Jerrells and Dunn will need to keep their hot hands against the Longhorns, who were 2-0 against the Bears in conference play and have a 24-game head-to-head winning streak.
Senior A.J. Abrams (16.5 PPG) has been quiet in the Big 12 tournament thus far, scoring only 10 points against Colorado in the first round and then only six points in the second round against Kansas State. Abrams torched the Bears in their two regular season meetings though, scoring 19 and 14 points, respectively.
Frontcourt Advantage: Texas
Texas big man Dexter Pittman (9.8 PPG) is becoming a star. The junior center is averaging 17.5 points and 15 rebounds in the Big 12 tournament. He is shooting a scorching 17-for-25 (68 percent) from the floor as well.
Junior swingman Damion James (15.8 PPG, 9.4 RPG) scored only seven points before fouling out in the second round against Kansas State. Normally that would prove to be detrimental to have your second leading scorer foul out while playing only 24 minutes, but Pittman was able to do more than just fill the void.
Baylor senior forward Kevin Rogers (12.0 PPG, 7.8 RPG) will have his hands full with Pittman and James inside. He won't have much help inside as Baylor does not have much frontcourt depth.
Look for Pittman to have another strong effort against Baylor. He should be able to record his third straight double-double for the Longhorns.
Both teams are playing arguably their best basketball of the season.
Coach Rick Barnes and Texas got off to a slow start. Senior center Connor Atchley (4.9 PPG) did not step up to be the inside presence Texas needed him to be, especially on the offensive end, and Abrams and James were trying to do too much by themselves. The Longhorns looked like a team of individuals instead of as a balanced unit.
With the emergence of Pittman, Texas has found its balance. Pittman has this team rolling at the right time as they look to get back to the conference finals for the fourth straight year, where they have been runner-ups to Kansas each time.
Luckily for Texas, who had lost to Kansas in the Big 12 final for the past three years, Baylor knocked off the top-seeded Jayhawks in the second round. The Bears got off to a very promising 3-1 start in conference play and were 15-3 overall. Then they went 2-10 down the stretch to finish the regular season in ninth place in the conference.
Things are looking up for the Bears now though after beating Nebraska convincingly 65-49 in the first round and then upsetting the Jayhawks in the second round, marking only the second time that the top seed lost in its first game in the Big 12 tournament. Baylor was responsible for the other upset, beating Iowa State in 2001.
That was the Bears' only other trip to the tournament semifinals.
This game should feature a great backcourt battle between Abrams and the Baylor duo of Jerrells and Dunn. But the game will be won in the paint, where Pittman and James will dominate over the smaller Bears.
Shaun's Pick: Texas -3.0
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