KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — In an era of freshman superstars, of one-and-done players stopping through college for a moment, Baylor relied on its upperclassmen when things got tight against West Virginia.
Naturally, a handful of juniors and seniors held up under the pressure.
Taurean Prince scored 18 points off the bench, Royce O’Neale added 16 and the No. 16 Bears pulled away late for an 80-70 victory Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“Starts with me and Kenny (Chery) being seniors,” O’Neal said. “We had to keep everybody poised, and Ishmail (Wainright) stepped up off the bench when we got in foul trouble. You never know who is going to step up, but we had to steady it as a team.”
Rico Gathers added 14 points and eight rebounds for the fourth-seeded Bears (24-8), who advanced to play the winner of top-seeded Kansas and No. 9 seed TCU in the semifinals.
“That’s the great thing about playing in the Big 12,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “If you’re going to win, they’re probably going to be close games. A lot of different styles.”
West Virginia (23-9) led 62-61 with just over 7 minutes to go, but the Bears turned up the defense, forcing back-to-back turnovers and converting easy baskets at the other end. By the time Gathers made two foul shots with 2:22 left, the Bears led 73-66 — their biggest to that point.
The fifth-seeded Mountaineers couldn’t get much closer down the stretch, keeping them winless in three trips to the Big 12 tournament. They’ve been one-and-done their first three seasons.
“We didn’t finish around the rim the way we need to finish around the rim,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “They made some key shots and we didn’t”
West Virginia played again without Juwan Staten, who is dealing with a knee injury, and Gary Browne, who has a sprained ankle. Huggins hopes to have both back for the NCAA Tournament.
The Mountaineers’ Devin Williams had 18 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with 2 1/2 minutes left in the game. Jaysean Paige also 18 points and Daxter Miles Jr. had 11.
The game was a contrast in styles, both of them effective.
Baylor employed its unique 1-3-1 zone defense, trying to bog down the Mountaineers into a plodding, half-court game. West Virginia countered with its “Press Virginia” defense, a frenzied full-court attack designed to force turnovers and speed things up.
Different ways of going about things. Just about even results.
In the first half, both teams went 13 of 27 from the field. The Bears had a big advantage in the paint and at the foul line, while West Virginia had a big edge from beyond the arc.
Ultimately, those advantages were a wash. Baylor led just 38-36 at the break.
“We kind of backed it off,” Huggins said of the press. “We were trying to guard ’em and we didn’t guard ’em very well, but we were trying to guard ’em better and not turn ’em loose.”
The game remained tight throughout the second half, each team going on a run that threatened to take control. Baylor went first, building a 55-49 edge on a basket by Prince. The Mountaineers countered with an 11-2 charge that gave them a 60-57 lead with under 10 minutes to go.
Both coaches frantically called timeouts to slow momentum down the stretch. Then foul trouble hit, Williams fouling out for West Virginia and Prince following him for Baylor.
Ultimately, the Bears were able to draw away with a couple of key baskets in the closing minutes, beating the Mountaineers for the fourth straight time.
“The first two times, it was pretty — those were tough games, too. We just kind of caught a run at the end, the very end,” Prince said. “They’re a tough team, they play very hard, tough team to outrebound, but we did what we needed to do tonight.”
STATEN AND BROWN
Huggins said that Staten and Brown weren’t “100 percent” to play against the Bears, but “they are both planning and are very excited about playing next week.”
West Virginia: The Mountaineers, the national leader in steals, only forced 10 turnovers against Baylor. … Tarik Phillip was held to two points on 1-for-6 shooting.
Baylor: The Bears improved to 7-4 against ranked teams this season. … Baylor still has not allowed an opponent to score more than 75 points this season. … Kenny Chery was just 1 of 7 from the field for five points, but he also had seven assists and only two turnovers.
West Virginia heads home to await their NCAA Tournament seeding on Sunday.
Baylor will play Kansas or TCU in the semifinals on Friday.
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