It took overtime, but the Bears got it done.
Led by 27 points, 10 boards and four blocks from Jonathan Motley, No. 25 Baylor completed a sweep of No. 13 Iowa State in Waco on Tuesday night, 100-91.
Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the Bears did it without Rico Gathers in the lineup. Baylor has been quite consistent this season. Outside of their two wins over the Cyclones, the Bears have really, really struggled against the best teams in the country. They’re 1-6 against KenPom top 40 teams not named Iowa State, and the one win came at home over a Vanderbilt that has been the nation’s biggest disappointment.
If we’re talking RPI, they’re best non-ISU win came against Texas Tech, the same Texas Tech that is currently sitting at 5-7 in the league and coming off an 18-point beatdown of the Bears in Waco on Saturday.
That matters because Baylor is fighting to get themselves a seed in the NCAA tournament that would give them a puncher’s chance to play their way out of the first weekend, and while they’ll have some chances to improve their résumé before the Big 12 tournament — at Texas, Kansas, at Oklahoma, West Virginia — would anyone be shocked to see them go 0-4 in that stretch?
And that’s assuming they find a way to get Gathers — the nation’s best rebounder who has missed two of the last four games — to remain in the lineup
That is why the Bears needed each of those 27 points from Motley. Terry Maston, a reserve big man, was the team’s second-leading scorer with 15 points, as he and Motley combined to shoot 17-for-26 from the floor. The Bears, as a team, combined for 46 points in the paint and, despite playing without Gathers, outrebounded the Cyclones and snagged 42 percent of the available offensive rebounds.
In other words, even without their best big man, Baylor pounded Iowa State in the paint.
And therein lies the biggest concern for both of these teams.
Iowa State’s best big man — Jameel McKay — was suspended for a week following issues in practice and, on Tuesday, finished with five fouls, three boards and just a single, scoreless shot from the floor. They spent much of the evening using Georges Niang as their center on the defensive end of the floor with Deonte Burton working the baseline against Baylor’s zone.
In other words, it’s becoming more and more difficult to take Iowa State seriously as a team that can contend for the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. And if Baylor’s best win this year comes against a team that is may not actually be all that good, can we really trust them?
I guess we’ll find out the next three weeks, won’t we?