KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Scott Drew thought his team was playing well entering the Big 12 tournament, but the conference was so challenging this year that Baylor kept coming out on the losing end.
The Bears finally got rewarded for their solid play Thursday.
Taurean Prince had 24 points and 13 rebounds, Rico Gathers added 13 points and No. 22 Baylor’s baffling zone defense shut down No. 23 Texas in a 75-61 victory in the tournament quarterfinals.
“That’s the tough thing in the Big 12. When you’re playing great teams, you can be playing good basketball and not get the win,” Drew said. “I think we were playing decent. We just weren’t winning.”
They picked a fine time to change that narrative.
The fifth-seeded Bears (22-10) opened a 15-point lead in the first half, then used Drew’s trademark defense to keep the fourth-seeded Longhorns (20-12) from coming back. The reward is a date in the semifinals against top-ranked Kansas or Kansas State on Friday night.
“We just wanted to come out with energy, flying around, give good ball pressure,” said Al Freeman, who scored 12 for the Bears. “We wanted to limit them on second-chance points as much as possible.”
They did that by out-rebounding the Longhorns 46-27.
Connor Lammert had 15 points, Kerwin Roach had 13 and Shaquille Cleare had 12 for Texas, but the bigger story was who got shut down: All-Big 12 guard Isaiah Taylor scored just eight, all in the second half.
“We always come out sluggish, come out slowly, and we have to battle back,” said Taylor, who did have nine assists. “We weren’t able to battle back.”
The Longhorns have lost four straight to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament.
Texas was hoping to get a boost from the return of big man Cameron Ridley, who had been out since late December with a broken foot. He was cleared to practice this week and checked in with about 6 minutes to go in the first half, then immediately got fouled and contributed two free throws.
Ridley wound up playing just 2 minutes, though.
“The doctor and trainer gave me a restriction on how many minutes he could play,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said. “At halftime he was feeling a little pain so that was that. He wasn’t going to play anymore.”
The Bears opened a 31-16 lead late in the first half, slicing right through a Texas defense that held Oklahoma State to 50 points its last time out. And when the Longhorns made a small run to trim their deficit to single digits, Jake Lindsey hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Baylor a 38-27 lead at the break.
The Bears pushed their advantage to 59-40 on Johnathan Motley’s breakaway dunk midway through the second half, and the small contingent of Longhorns fans – with the Jayhawks and Wildcats waiting in the wings, there wasn’t much Baylor flavor either – continued to sit on their hands.
Smart’s bunch finally gave them a reason to cheer.
Taylor’s first basket of the game with 10:36 to go started a 10-0 run, and Prince Ibeh capped it with a rim-rattling dunk over Gathers to make it 59-50 with about 7 minutes to go.
The Longhorns kept the Bears uncomfortable the rest of the way, but they were unable to make the stops they needed to complete their comeback. Prince combined with Al Freeman and Lester Medford to make enough free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
“They were the more aggressive team for the majority of the game,” said Smart, who got his first taste of the Big 12 tournament. “That’s what allowed them to win.”
Gathers dealt with an illness late in the season, but said he’s close to being in shape. He played 22 minutes against the Longhorns. “Trying to get myself back into the groove of things,” he said.
Baylor: Ish Wainwright had eight boards. … The Bears are 22-2 when leading at the half. … Baylor is 11-7 against Texas since snapping a 24-game losing streak in the rivalry.
Texas: Taylor also contributed three rebounds. … The Longhorns had won three of their last four, with their lone loss to Kansas. … Texas lost to Baylor in the Big 12 semifinals two years ago.
Baylor faces the Jayhawks or Wildcats in Friday night’s semifinals.
Texas awaits its NCAA Tournament seeding on Sunday.