Isaiah Austin, Kamari Murphy, Cory Jefferson

Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, finally play like Baylor’s twin towers

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Baylor hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations that were expected to have this season. A preseason ranking has given way to losses to Northwestern, College of Charleston and Colorado — team’s the Bears are clearly better than on paper — and sandwiched in between there was the victory that handed John Calipari his first home defeat since taking over at Kentucky.

It’s been a weird season to this point for folks in Waco. But there’s one thing that’s pretty obvious, the Bears have the best defensive front-court in the nation when it comes to guarding the paint.

Tonight, the Bears beat Oklahoma State 64-54 to improve to 12-5 on the season. Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson combined for 11 blocks in the win.

Jefferson, a 6-9, 210-pound junior who took the Kelly Olynyk route by being a healthy redshirt in 2010-11 to improve his game, swatted six Cowboy shots, while Austin, the keystone of Baylor’s 2012 class, threw back five. On the season, Jefferson leads the team at 2.1 blocks per game, Austin with 1.1 per. Only one other team in the nation has two players that have averaged that, Kentucky with Willie Cauley-Stein and Nerlens Noel.

It was expected for Austin, seven-footer who, while he likes to play the mid-range and perimeter, had a reputation for blocking shots. Jefferson, though, had improved his block percentage this season over a full block.

The two big men also combined for 25 of the Bears’ 36 rebounds. It won’t happen every night, but the talent level of both Austin and Jefferson makes them about to grab at least 50-percent of the team’s rebounds.

Austin obviously has the size, but did a great job at making the Cowboys’ shooters adjust late in their drives or jumpers. Jefferson had his way down low with Philip Jurick and Jamari Murphy, who combined for 27 minutes, zero points, 0-for-3 from the field and three rebounds. That play made Oklahoma State rely heavily on their guards/swingmen (LeBryan Nash and Marcus Smart combined for 36 points).

The duo’s play against the Cowboys was something this team sorely needs for nights when they struggle on offense. In a size-heavy league like the Big 12, it’s something that could be a major factor in which side of the bubble coach Scott Drew’s team is on come March.

David Harten is the founder and editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

VIDEO: Kris Dunn wills Providence to win over No. 11 Arizona

Kris Dunn, Elliott Pitts
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Kris Dunn spent the first 35 minutes of Friday night’s game against No. 11 Arizona in foul trouble, splitting his time between sitting on the bench and trying to avoid finding himself, again, on the wrong side the whistle.

With 11 minutes left in the game, and with Dunn yet to find a rhythm, the all-american point guard was whistled for his fourth foul as he battled for a rebound with Arizona’s Mark Tollefsen. Head coach Ed Cooley say his superstar beside his for six game minutes, time enough for Arizona to turn a 49-47 deficit into a 58-54 lead.

There were just over five minutes left when Dunn reentered the second semifinal of the Wooden Legacy, and he proceeded to show everyone in the country why he was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Providence had nine possessions after he reentered the game. Dunn scored 11 points and had a pair of assists on those eight possessions, and if Ben Bentil had stuck a wide-open three — that was setup by Dunn — the Friars would have scored on all nine.

In total, Dunn was responsible for all 15 Friar points in a game-changing, 15-7 run in the final 4:30. It was capped off by this Kobe-in-his-prime-esque game-winner:

The win for Providence is huge for a couple of reasons:

  • Dunn showed a killer instinct against a marquee opponent, something that we didn’t necessarily see out of him a season ago. He wasn’t going to let his team lose, and given that Providence doesn’t have anyone else that can consistently create good shots, they are going to need that from him a lot this year.
  • It makes a statement for the Friars. Arizona is overrated at No. 11 in the country, yes, but going out on national television against an elite program and getting this kind of performance from Dunn is a confidence-booster and a tone-setter. Providence hasn’t been accustomed to winning in recent years. This is a way to set a trend.
  • Ben Bentil continues to play like a star. Dunn had 19 points and eight assists on Friday, but Bentil followed up a 24-point performance in the win over Evansville with 21 critical points on Friday.

This win sets up a matchup between No. 3 Michigan State and Providence on Sunday night, which means that Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn — the two best players in the country, sorry Ben Simmons — will be going head-to-head.

Oh. Hell. Yes.

No. 14 Cal goes 0-2 in Las Vegas Invitational

Jaylen Brown
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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After midnight on the east coast on Thanksgiving, No. 14 Cal blew a 15 point second half lead against San Diego State, allowing the Aztecs to use a 30-6 run to put away the game and advance to the final of the Las Vegas Invitational. That’s the same San Diego State team had scored 43 points in a loss to Arkansas-Little Rock last week.

Not 24 hours later, the Golden Bears were shredded defensively by the Richmond Spiders, losing 94-90 in the consolation game of a four-team tournament they were considered to be the heavy favorite in.

It’s a disappointing two-game stretch for Cal, who entered the season as a Pac-12 favorite and had looked the part for the first four games of the season.

And the issue appears to be on the defensive end of the floor.

Richmond is a good Atlantic 10 team. Terry Allen and Marshall Wood are high-major big men, Shawn’Dre Jones is a jitterbug at the point and Chris Mooney runs a Princeton-esque system that is very difficult to prepare for without a day in-between games. So it’s not really surprising that the Spiders gave Cal a fight.

But 94 points?

On the heels of giving up 44 points in the second half against the offensively-challenged Aztecs?

That’s a problem, one that I’m sure that Cuonzo Martin is going to address this week in practice. Martin has managed to put together a roster that is build for small-ball, with four talented perimeter players surrounding a first round pick in the post. But that’s not the style that he’s known for. Martin played his college ball at Purdue in the Gene Keady days. He cut his teeth as a head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. His team’s at Tennessee were known for being tough and physical defensively.

That’s how Martin coaches, which is part of the reason Cal had such hype entering the year.

The talents of Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Ivan Rabb, Jabari Bird and Jordan Mathews on a team with a coach that gets teams to defend the way Martin does? It’s no surprise that pundits would be optimistic.

But as of now, they have some work to do defensively if they want to live up to that hype.