San Antonio, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Former combatants in the Big 12 Conference get together in the Lone Star State during the second round of the NCAA Tournament, as the Baylor Bears battle the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a West Regional clash.
The Cornhuskers, the 11th seed in the region, left the Big 12 and joined the Big Ten Conference in time to compete in the 2011-12 campaign, so the regularly-scheduled meetings between these squads came to an end at that point. The squad was picked to finish 12th in the conference this year, but head coach Tim Miles had other plans for one of the youngest teams from a power conference.
Obviously there were a few bumps in the road for the Huskers, particularly in late December/early January when the squad dropped five straight outings and six of seven, but also in that run was a six-point victory against 17th-ranked Ohio State which Nebraska had bowed to only weeks before by 31 points. Following a blowout loss at Michigan on Feb. 5, the Cornhuskers ripped off eight wins in the final nine games of the regular season. Unfortunately, Nebraska was turned away in the conference tournament by Ohio State (71-67), but its resume was still strong enough to make the cut for a seventh NCAA Tournament appearance.
However, playing in the postseason, the NCAA Tournament specifically, has not been much of a positive endeavor as the Huskers have come up empty in all six of their previous tests in the event.
Meanwhile, the sixth-seeded Bears opened the 2013-14 campaign as a nationally- ranked program, reaching as high as No. 7 in early January, but that was before the bottom fell out during some very stiff Big 12 play. The squad won a total of just two games in the month of January, one coming against Savannah State and the other versus a woeful TCU squad at home, leaving Baylor to deal with an untimely five-game slide.
The Bears regained some momentum in the middle of February, winning four straight and seven of the last eight in the regular season, before posting victories over TCU, Oklahoma and Texas in the conference tournament. The run ended in the title game against Iowa State though (74-65), but still the squad played well enough down the stretch to earn a spot in the Big Dance.
Unlike the Huskers, Baylor has had some measure of success during previous trips to the tourney, making it to the Final Four twice and splitting 18 total decisions dating back to 1946. Two years ago, the Bears made it to the South Regional Final before bowing to Kentucky (82-70), the eventual national champion.
At the moment, the Huskers lead the all-time series by a count of 12-10, but the squads have met three times in the postseason, all of them in the Big 12 Conference Tournament and each of those going to Baylor. The most recent meeting back on Feb. 9, 2011 evolved into a 74-70 victory for the Bears in Waco.
The survivor this time around will be back in action on Sunday versus the winner of the Louisiana/Creighton battle, for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
For the first time since 2008 the Huskers had a first-team all-conference selection on their roster in Terran Petteway. Just a sophomore, Petteway has generated a substantial 18.1 ppg, a rather large chunk of offense when you consider Nebraska is producing only 67.0 ppg. Petteway, one of two players to have started all 31 games on the schedule thus far, has done quite a bit of damage at the free-throw line with his 82.0 percent accuracy (159-of-194), adding 4.9 rpg to tie for second-best on the unit behind only Shavon Shields with his 5.8 rpg.
Shields, an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer, is the only other Nebraska scorer who has been hitting for double figures on a regular basis, resulting in 12.7 ppg.
Sporting a balanced scoring attack that features four double-digit scorers helping to push the Bears to 75.2 ppg, Baylor is paced by Cory Jefferson with his 13.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg. An inside presence for sure at both ends of the floor, Jefferson has connected on 49.9 percent of his field goal chances over the course of 35 starts, but just 64.0 percent at the free-throw line. Brady Heslip (11.8 ppg, Kenny Chery (11.6 ppg) and Isaiah Austin (11.0 ppg) all shoulder the load for the Bears on offense, with Heslip making good on a staggering 112 3-pointers at a 47.3 percent clip.
Heslip has been fed quite a bit by Chery and his 169 assists and while those two function quite well out on the perimeter, it is Austin who rules the paint, maybe not so much as a rebounder with just 5.5 per game, but in terms of his defensive presence which has resulted in a staggering 114 blocked shots, placing him among the best in the nation. In fact, Austin has more rejections than all of the Baylor opponents (95).