Preview: Baylor vs. Wisconsin
When Baylor lost eight of 10 games between Jan. 7 and Feb. 8, few thought that, less than two months later, they would be two wins from the Final Four. But after a pair of impressive performances in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, the Bears look to punch their ticket to the Elite Eight when they face Wisconsin in Anaheim, Calif. on Thursday. Sixth-seeded Baylor has won eight of its last nine, including wins over Nebraska and Creighton by an average of 22 points last weekend.
“We obviously had a tough time going through 2-8, but nobody lost hope,” Baylor forward Cory Jefferson said. “We thought we could make it to the NCAA tournament because of the great team we have. No one was giving up or pointing fingers at each other. We started digging down and didn’t worry about stats or anything.” Second-seeded Wisconsin is coming off an eight-point comeback victory against an athletic Oregon team in the Round of 32, but Baylor will present a different challenge. “Obviously, we haven’t seen a team quite like Baylor,” said Badgers center Frank Kaminsky, “so we’ll have to prepare for their personnel.”
TV: 6:47 p.m., TBS
About Baylor (26-11)
The Bears, who rank 24th in the nation in rebounding, have dominated the boards by a combined margin of 69-47 in their two games and will be facing a Badgers team that ranks 261st on the glass. Wisconsin also will have to keep an eye on Baylor’s guards from the perimeter, as Brady Heslip and Kenny Chery are a combined 9-of-19 from 3-point range in the tournament. Then there is 7-1 center Isaiah Austin, who went 1-of-7 from behind the arc over his first 16 games before deciding to take 56 3s in his last 21 games, making them at a 30 percent clip.
About Wisconsin (28-7)
All five of the Badgers’ starters average between 9.2 and 13.6 points and all five have made at least 30 3-pointers this season. Ben Brust is their top long-range threat with 89 3-pointers, giving him a school-record 228 for his career, and Josh Gasser is their best percentage shooter, nailing 45.6 percent of his 103 long-range attempts. Junior point guard Traevon Jackson has averaged 17 points, six rebounds and four assists in the tournament while Kaminsky scored a team-high 19 points against the Ducks despite shooting 2-of-7 from the foul line - a strange stat for a 76.6-percent foul shooter who was 10-of-10 over his previous two games.
1. The winner will face No. 1 Arizona or No. 4 San Diego State in the Elite Eight of the West regional.
2. Kaminsky, by far the Badgers’ tallest starter at 7-0, has grabbed a total of 11 rebounds in 83 minutes over the last three games.
3. Baylor is 2-0 in Sweet 16 games under coach Scott Drew, having defeated Saint Mary’s in 2010 and Xavier in 2012.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 71, Baylor 66