Baylor Basketball: Beachin’ Bears II
Part II: Baylor survives VCU’s relentless defense while the women win their fist game in Cancun
Baylor was feeling the heat on the beaches in both the Bahamas and Cancun yesterday as both teams overcame early deficits.
On Thanksgiving, Baylor stayed in the kitchen and proved once again that they could handle the heat.
The Rams scored the first three points of the game to which Matthew Mayer quickly responded with five points in a row for the Bears. With Flo Thamba in early foul trouble, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua came in and provided a spark with 11 first half points. He finished with a career high 13.
Baylor extended their lead to 11 about midway through the first half, however, VCU chipped away with a relentless press and trap defense in the half court to go on a 13-4 run to make it a two-point game going into halftime.
Mayer had struggled to start the season where he has been averaging 11.2 points per game and shot 25 percent from three. Against VCU, he led the Bears with 15 points, including shooting 60 percent from three-point land.
The senior from Austin, Texas, articulated that he didn’t do much different in this game than others:
“I don’t really know, I just shot ‘em and made ‘em tonight. I didn’t really think too much about it, I think I’ve just been shooting bad and I’m glad to see some go through.”
Still Coach Scott Drew’s team turned the ball over 13 times and allowed VCU to score nine points off those turnovers in the first half alone. Point guard and Arizona transfer James Akinjo turned the ball over six times in the first half and had seven total as Baylor struggled to run their offense.
Mayer described the challenges that VCU posed defensively:
“They really slowed us down; we were struggling to get across half court in the 10 seconds. Once we did, it took us awhile to get in our plays so by the time we started [our offense] we only had 15 seconds left. Also, they are really scrappy, they’re some dawgs. I gotta give it up to them, they play really hard and I respect them for that.”
The Bears managed to make some adjustments and came out of the locker room hot as they shot over 42 percent after halftime. They scored the first nine points of the second half, including Kendall Brown scoring the first six—his first two on an alley-oop set play.
In fact, Brown scored all 14 of his points in the second half on perfect 6-for-6 shooting. He had a nice step back jumper to put the Bears back up 11 with 15 minutes remaining, but VCU responded with an 8-0 run to cut the lead to three.
Brown bookended a critical 7-0 Baylor run from the six to three minute mark with two outstanding drives to the basket that were just enough to keep the Rams at arms length.
VCU coach Mike Rhoades offered his opinion the freshman’s talent level and what allowed Brown to be so effective in the second half:
“He caught us a couple times where he just really drove it hard... I thought he got downhill on us a couple times, got a couple easy ones and that gets you going, right? He was around the basket too. He’s a very good player and good players step up.
For freshmen, the more they play [then] the more they feel comfortable and pick their spots and [Brown] found some of those spots in the second half. He’s a very talented player and thought we gave him too many driving lanes let in the second half and [Brown] got himself going.
Rhoades’ Rams were still never completely out of it and had their chances thanks to a defense that was long, athletic and relentlessly swarming. VCU just kept coming.
Despite their record, VCU had not allowed any opponent to score more than 58 points so far this year. This included holding Syracuse to 55 points on 29 and 21.7 percent shooting from the field and three respectively in the Battle 4 Atlantis quarterfinal a day earlier. VCU also forced 16 turnovers, 10 of which were steals, against the Orange.
Coach Jim Boeheim’s squad then dropped 92 points on 54.1 and 42.1 percent shooting from the field and three in their win over Arizona State. I asked coach about any adjustments he made after playing VCU that led to a more productive offensive night to which Boeheim raved about the Rams’ defense:
“VCU is, I think, one of the top 5 or 6 defensive teams in the country. They forced us out of stuff… we had a little breakdown on defense, which really hurt us… they’re good, everyone here is good.”
Baylor broke that 60-point barrier by winning 69-61 to advance to the championship game. According to Coach Drew the difference was Baylor out scoring VCU 15-3 in second chance points. The Bears have allowed no more than five second chance points this entire season.
They will play Michigan State who had two thrilling games against Chicago Loyola and UConn in the first two rounds. The Spartans’ only loss on the year was to the Kansas Jayhawks at the Garden in their opener. So this may be a good early season measuring stick to compare Kansas and Baylor.
If Baylor wins, they will join Villanova as the only two-time Battle 4 Atlantis champion.
The Bears have the longest active winning streak in college basketball at 12 as they vie for their fourth regular season tournament championship in six years (2016 Battle 4 Atlantis, 2017 Hall of Fame Classic, and 2019 Myrtle Beach Invitational). Eleven of the past 12 national champions have won a regular season tournament title.
The Bears have been an enigma this season as they seem to be struggling more than in their recent history. They had to stave off a late Texas State comeback attempt in their season opener to win 77-70 at home, but then were a near buzzer beater away from forcing overtime at No. 2 Maryland.
Baylor won convincingly 68-45 over Fordham yesterday, as they out-rebounded and shot 13 percent better than Fordham. What was shocking was that the Bears trailed at halftime 20-24.
Baylor may have the best player in the nation in NaLyssa Smith, who had 19 points and 15 boards, but they have not exactly played like an unquestioned top 10 team. Part of that is a new coach and new transfers and a new offensive philosophy, but Baylor has seemed to be stuck in the sand quite often already this season.
Joining Smith in double figures were Jordan Lewis (15), Sarah Andrews (10) and Ja’Mee Asberry (10). Caitlin Bickle added eight points, and Queen Egbo was held to only two points on 0-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes.
Baylor plays Arizona State today for their second game.