KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s amazing what a 21-point lead will do.
Baylor built the huge lead in the early stages of the second half against No. 17 Oklahoma, then scored enough down the stretch to advance to the Big 12 tournament semifinals with a 78-73 victory Thursday at Sprint Center.
“I thought the first half was fun to watch,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I thought we really executed well. Our guys really defended a lot better. It all starts with taking care of the ball on the defensive end.
“They missed some shots. They shot 35 3-point shots. They could have made 18. Our job was just to make them as difficult as possible, to try to limit them to one-and-done.”
Oklahoma made just 12 of those 35 attempts from beyond the arc, including 7-of-22 in the second half.
Center Isaiah Austin led Baylor (23-10) with 18 points, and forward Cory Jefferson scored 14. All five Baylor starters scored at least 12 points. On Friday, the seventh-seeded Bears will face the winner of Thursday night’s quarterfinal between third-seeded Texas and sixth-seeded West Virginia.
Austin affected the way the bigs from Oklahoma played throughout the game. Sooners forward Ryan Spangler said the threat of a blocked shot changed the way OU attacked, unlike the first two games between the squads this season.
“He blocked a lot of shots in there,” Spangler said. “All week we worked on getting on two feet and pump-faking, but I don’t think we did that today like we practiced.”
Austin was glad to finally affect the game in that way.
“I think they changed their game plan a little bit from the first half because we were blocking shots and were contesting shots and not giving them anything easy,” he said.
Second-seeded Oklahoma (23-9) was led by forward Cameron Clark with 19 points and guard Buddy Hield with 15.
Austin scored Baylor’s first seven points of the half after the Bears took a 16-point lead into halftime.
Oklahoma tried valiantly to catch Baylor but could get no closer than three points.
“Most teams are going to compete like crazy when you dig yourselves a hole,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Our guys did that. I thought they were more active defensively the second half. It got a little frantic there defensively. We went to the offensive end and didn’t shoot it as well as we needed to.”
Down by 21 points at one point, the Sooners started their comeback with a 3-pointer by guard Isaiah Cousins. Clark hit two buckets. Guard Frank Booker hit another 3-pointer, and forward Tyler Neal made two buckets inside, sandwiched around a couple of made free throws by the Bears, and the deficit was down to nine before the midpoint of the half.
Baylor scored the next five points. The Sooners cut the lead to 69-64 on a 3-pointer by Hield with 2:34 remaining, but Baylor hit three of four free throws. Cousins hit one of three from the line before Hield hit another 3-pointer to cut it to 72-68.
Four consecutive free throws by the Bears pushed the lead to eight points before Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard hit a bucket inside to cut it to 76-70 with 18 seconds left. After Baylor forward Royce O’Neale missed two free throws, Woodard hit a 3-point shot with 2.1 seconds left. Bears guard Brady Heslip’s two free throws provided the final margin.
“Oklahoma’s a great team,” Drew said. “They score in bunches. They turn you over with their pressure. That’s why it was important to have a lead and have an opportunity to make a mistake or two and still be okay.”
The Bears scored the first 10 points of the game. Oklahoma cut the lead to four points with back-to-back 3-point shots by Booker and guard Je’lon Hornbeak, but Baylor answered with a quick 5-0 run to retake the comfortable lead.
The Bears moved in front 37-27, then concluded the half with a 10-4 run in the final 2:36 to take a 47-31 lead into the break.
Austin and Jefferson led Baylor with nine first-half points apiece. All five Bears starters had at least seven points in the half.
Hield topped Oklahoma with seven first-half points.
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