By Kaveh Kaghazi
Talent. Size. Length. On paper, the No. 6 Baylor Bears seem to have it all: A point guard who can get to the basket at will, a paint patrolling shot blocker and at least two future NBA lottery picks.
On the hardwood, the Bears (21-3, 8-3) have struggled against the Big 12’s best this season: Missouri and Kansas. Baylor will get a chance to avenge a 89-88 loss at home to the Tigers earlier this season when they visit Mizzou Arena on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 12:30 p.m.
Phil Pressey scored 18 points and added seven assists, six steals and five rebounds in Missouri's 89-88 win against Baylor on Jan. 21.
“We know we’re playing a Top 10 team,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said at a press conference on Thursday.
“So it’s a great opportunity for us…a team that we’ve beaten earlier in the year that we expect to come in with a little bit of a revenge factor. And we know that we’ll get their best game.”
Since beating Oklahoma State by 41 points on Jan. 14, Baylor is just 5-3 with an average margin of victory of six points. Scott Drew’s team was blown out of its own gym by Kansas Wednesday night in Waco, Texas, 68-54. Wednesday’s loss marked the second time this season the Jayhawks have beaten Baylor soundly. The first time around, KU dismantled the Bears, 92-74 in Lawrence, Kan.
Yet the Tigers (22-2, 9-2) are aware of the difficulties Baylor presents with their sheer size alone. “They’re long, they’re athletic,” center Steve Moore said. “They’ve got really good guards, really good big guys.”
Baylor has had no shortage of big men in recent years, with forwards Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy. Jones, a heralded recruit coming out of high school, has averaged 14 points and seven rebounds in his first two seasons at Baylor while the senior Acy leads the team with more than two blocks per game.
Jones and Quincy Miller, a 6-9 freshman forward, are expected to be sure-fire NBA lottery picks. Twenty-three NBA scouts attended Wednesday’s game to watch Jones and Miller take on the Jayhawks. With Jones, Acy and Miller, the Bears provide a challenge to smaller teams like Missouri who can’t match Baylor’s height advantage.
Four players in Missouri’s starting lineup are 6-6 or shorter. Yet the lack of size didn’t hurt the Tigers the first time around. Instead, Missouri’s speed served as Baylor’s kryptonite as the Tigers’ guards controlled the tempo throughout the game.
“We just have to match their size with our speed,” guard Phil Pressey said.
Pressey had arguably his best all-around game of the season the first time these teams squared off on Jan. 21. Matched up with Baylor’s Pierre Jackson, Pressey successfully penetrated Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone, scoring 18 points to go along with seven assists, six steals and five rebounds.
Sixth man Michael Dixon has averaged 16.3 points in his last three games.
Asked about what stood out to him while watching Baylor on film, junior guard Michael Dixon didn’t hesitate.
“Their length,” Dixon said.
“We’re a small team—everybody knows that. We’ve got to box out and we’ve got to rebound and we have to play to our strengths. And I think when we defensive rebound we have to run because we are small but at the same time have speed and quickness and that’s the thing that gives everybody we play problems.”
Senior forward Ricardo Ratliffe scored a season-high 27 points back on Jan. 21, while he and fellow senior Kim English limited Jones to just eight points and four rebounds.
“You know when you play against better players, it kind of makes you step up your level play,” Ratliffe said. “Especially playing against guys that are supposed to be going to the NBA.”
At 9-2, Missouri is tied atop the Big 12 standings with Kansas with just seven regular season games left on the schedule. A Baylor loss on Saturday would drop the Bears to 8-4 in conference play and 0-4 against the Tigers and Jayhawks. Although the Tigers have yet to lose a game at Mizzou Arena this season (13-0), Dixon stressed how difficult conference game rematches are.
“It’s very tough to beat a team twice,” Dixon said. “We have to come out and be ready for them.”