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The CoachCal.com keys to victory: Baylor game

The No. 3/4 ranked Kentucky Wildcats travel to the Lone Star State to take on the No. 20 Baylor Bears in a dandy men’s and women’s doubleheader at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, AT&T Stadium (80,000).

Introducing the Baylor Bears

The basics

What: No. 3/4 Kentucky (7-1) vs. No. 20/20 Baylor (7-1)
When: Friday, 10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium (80,000) in Dallas
Game notes: UK | Baylor
Preview: Randle hoping Baylor game won’t be his only trip home
Video: Randle, Hawkins preview Baylor
Video: Cal’s pre-Baylor presser

The Coach — Scott Drew took over a scandal-ridden Baylor program in 2003 and has done a remarkable job at a school that has always found sustainable basketball success elusive. Drew has led the Bears to five postseason tournaments in the last six years (and five 20-plus win seasons), including NCAA Tournament Elite Eight runs in 2010 and 2012, where the national championship Wildcats bested Baylor in the Georgia Dome to advance to the Final Four. By winning the NIT championship last season, Drew led his squad to the school’s first-ever postseason title. Also last season, Baylor broke Kentucky’s 54-game home court winning streak, beating the No. 8 Wildcats 64-55 on Dec. 1, the Bears’ only victory over UK in eight meetings. In the last six-plus seasons, Drew has led Baylor, a member of the Big 12, to 149 victories, including Baylor’s first-ever 30-win season in 2012.

TV/Radio coverage

TV: ESPN
Radio: UK IMG
Live stats: Gametracker
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live blog: CoachCal.com

The Players — The Bears are nothing if not balanced, as Baylor boasts four double-digit scorers, beginning with 6-foot-9 senior forward Cory Jefferson. An honorable-mention All-Big 12 performer last season, Jefferson leads the Bears in scoring at 13.5 points per game on the strength of 54.3 percent field-goal shooting. Jefferson also leads Baylor in rebounding, pulling down 8.8 boards per game. In the Bears’ win over UK last year, Jefferson netted 10 points and snagged five rebounds. Brady Heslip, a 6-2 senior guard, comes off the bench to score 12.9 points per game for the Bears in an average of only 21.6 minutes per contest. A sharpshooter extraordinaire, Heslip has connected on 26 of 50 shots from long range on the season (52.0 percent). Against the Cats last year, Heslip scored 10 points on 2 of 6 3-point shooting. Kenny Chery, Baylor’s 5-11 point guard, dishes out 4.9 assists per contest to go along with his 10.8 points per game scoring average. An outstanding free-throw shooter, Chery has made 18 of 20 from the stripe this season (90.0 percent). All-Big 12 selection Isaiah Austin, Baylor’s 7-1 sophomore center (and nephew of nine-year NBA veteran Isaac “Ike” Austin), produces 10.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game for the Bears on the year. Austin is also a legitimate shot-blocker, swatting 3.3 shots per game. Two transfers, 6-2 senior guard Gary Franklin (California) and 6-6 junior forward Royce O’Neal (Denver), make tickling the twine from distance a habit; Franklin has connected on 16 of 34 from beyond the arc (47.1 percent), while O’Neal has made 8 of 11 from 3-point range (72.7 percent). Finally, Rico Gathers, a 6-8 sophomore and second cousin of the late Hank Gathers, brings energy off bench to the tune of 5.6 points and 6.4 rebounds in a little over 14.0 minutes of action per game.

Baylor File

Record: 7-1
Head coach: Scott Drew (186-138 at Baylor)
Ranking: 20/20
Nickname: Bears
Player to watch: Cory Jefferson (averaging 13.5 points and 8.8 rebounds)
Series history: UK leads 7-1
Last meeting: Baylor won 64-55 on Dec. 1, 2012

The Schedule — Baylor (7-1) has posted several impressive wins on the young season, including victories over Colorado, 72-60, South Carolina, 66-64, and No. 25 Dayton, 67-66. Also falling to the Bears this season were Louisiana-Lafayette, 87-68, Charleston Southern, 69-64, Chaminade, 93-77, and Hardin-Simmons, 104-59. Baylor’s lone loss of the season came in the championship game of the Maui Invitational to No. 4 Syracuse, 74-67.

Three Keys

Turn them over — In Baylor’s seven wins on the season, the Bears average 11.9 turnovers per game. Conversely, in Baylor’s only loss of the year, they turned the ball over 20 times against Syracuse, leading to 24 Orangemen points. It didn’t matter that Baylor shot 55.3 percent for the game or 47.4 percent from long range; Syracuse took 12 more shots, connecting on four more field goals than the Bears. The Cats force an average of 11.1 turnovers per game, with a season-high 16 coming against Texas-Arlington. Considering Kentucky turned up the defensive heat last time out against Providence, a continuation of defensive improvement would seem to be vital to beating a very strong Baylor squad.

Limit Baylor’s 3-point opportunities — When a UK opponent connects on 44.4 percent of its 3-point tries, as the Bears do (60 of 135), closing on the shooter, making strong switches on defense, and getting in the perimeter passing lanes are all key ingredients in the Cats coming out on top. It won’t be an easy task, though, for Baylor has several players capable of ripping the net from distance, putting the onus on UK’s perimeter players to disrupt the Bears extremely efficient outside shooters. While Kentucky beat Providence by 14, the Friars torched the nets from outside, connecting on 10 of 19 trey attempts (52.6 percent), numbers which, if achieved Friday night, could prove very dangerous to the Cats.

Julius Randle’s continued growth — Being indoctrinated into what it means to be a college basketball superstar, Julius Randle is learning what it means to grow as a player. Accustomed to powering the ball to the basket in high school, Randle has quickly discovered that in the college game power isn’t always the answer. For example, showing great maturity against Providence, Randle felt the double and triple teams coming, and several times passed out of the low block to the open shooter. Before Providence, Randle would often power up a miss or turn the ball over when going against multiple defenders. Not surprisingly, Randle’s decisions in the Providence game resulted in four assists, leading to 11 Wildcat points. Completing the circle, the recipients of Randle’s four assists came through with three 3-pointers (and a 2-point jumper), the final trey a clutch shot from the corner from Dominique Hawkins with 6:45 remaining. Friday against Baylor, Randle will once again face myriad defenders, and his ball handling decisions will more than likely directly impact the outcome of the game.

Key Matchup

Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Isaiah Austin — Cauley-Stein, experiencing a breakout game against Providence in UK’s last contest, simply must continue his improvement arc against who may be the best big man he faces all year in Baylor’s Isaiah Austin. The last time Cauley-Stein faced an opponent as talented as Austin — Michigan States 6-10 center Adreian Payne — UK’s man in the middle produced only five points and seven rebounds, while Payne countered with 15 points and three boards. Via Cauley-Stein, UK needs to establish an inside presence against Baylor in order to free up the Wildcat guards to drive and dish, stop and pop from beyond the arc, or from midrange. If Cauley-Stein is able to maintain the incredible energy level he exhibited against the Friars (along with his Anthony Davis-like ability to block shots), Kentucky’s offense becomes much more balanced, and the Wildcat defenders can defend with confidence knowing WCS will be prepared to come off the ball to swat the shot.

Trends

  • Through UK’s first three games, the Cats made only 62.3 percent of their free-throw attempts (76 of 122); over the last five games, Kentucky has been good on 72.3 percent of its charity tries (125 of 173).
  • On the season, UK is averaging 36.9 free throws per game; the Cats’ opponents average 18.8.
  • Kentucky has scored 201 points from the free-throw line; the opposition has attempted a total of 150 free throws.
  • The Cats have made over 35.0 percent from beyond the arc in three games this year. In those three games, UK combined to make an outstanding 21 of 46 from distance (45.7 percent); in the other five games the Wildcats made only 20-of-83 from long-range (24.1 percent).
  • Kentucky has recorded no fewer than seven blocks in the last five contests and is averaging 7.9 blocks per game on the year. UK’s opponent’s have a total of 15 blocks against the Cats.
  • UK has given up double-digit assists to the opposition only twice all year, against Michigan State and Cleveland State, when Kentucky allowed a total of 27 assists (13.5 per game). In the other six games, the Cats are allowing an average of 8.0 assists per game.
  • Through the first five games of the season, Kentucky took an average of 18.2 treys per game; over the last three games, UK has attempted 12.7 3-pointers per contest.

Team stats

UK Baylor
Scoring offense 84.5 78.1
Scoring defense 64.0 66.5
FG percentage 48.3 50.2
FG percentage defense 35.7 38.6
3-point percentage 28.9 44.4
3-point percentage defense 31.8 34.9
FT percentage 68.1 67.1
Rebound margin +15.5 +11.9
Steals per game 4.5 4.5
Blocks per game 7.9 6.1
Assists per game 12.9 15.9
Turnover margin -1.9 -4.3
kenpom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rank 2 32
Kenpom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rank 47 54

Individual leaders

UK Baylor
Points per game Julius Randle (18.1) Cory Jefferson (13.5)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (12.6) Cory Jefferson (8.8)
Field-goal percentage Willie Cauley-Stein (60.0) Royce O’Neale (70.4)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (43.8) Brady Heslip (52.0)
Free-throw percentage Andrew Harrison (82.6) Kenny Chery (90.0)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.4) Kenny Chery (4.9)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (3.9) Isaiah Austin (3.3)
Steals per game Willie Cauley-Stein (1.3) Royce O’Neale (1.0)

The Wrap-up

Tip-off is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET, with television provided by ESPN. And as always, CoachCal.com will have complete pre-, in-, and post-game coverage.