It looks like Baylor is ready to make its annual postseason run.
The seventh-seeded Bears dispatched TCU 76-68 in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday night at the Sprint Center. Cory Jefferson scored 20 points with 10 rebounds, and Isaiah Austin added 18 points in coach Scott Drew’s 200th victory as Baylor coach.
Baylor, 22-10, advanced to a quarterfinal game at 6 Thursday night against No. 2 seed Oklahoma, 23-8, in its quest to nab an NCAA Tournament berth.
And once the Bears reach the postseason, they’re a dangerous bunch. Baylor, the reigning NIT champion, has the best postseason winning percentage in college basketball the last five seasons at 15-3.
Baylor has won at least three games in each of its last four postseason appearances, going 4-1 as NIT runner-up in 2009, 3-1 in both 2010 and 2012 in reaching the NCAA Elite Eight, and 5-0 in winning the NIT in 2013.
The Bears appeared to be consigned to defending their NIT championship this year before a hot streak in which they have won eight of their last nine.
“I’m happy with the win, but disappointed with how we defended from the last 5 minutes of the first half and through the second half,” Drew said. “But at the end of the day, we got the win but we know we have to play better, and we’ll have the opportunity (against Oklahoma).”
TCU finished its season 9-22 after losing its 19th straight game. The Horned Frogs, who failed to win a Big 12 Conference game this season, went zero-for-2014. TCU’s last win was Dec. 29 against Texas Southern
Baylor, enjoying a decided height advantage with 7-foot-1 Austin and 6-9 Jefferson, dominated inside and jumped to a 15-3 lead fewer than 5 minutes into the game. Baylor led by as many as 16 when Royce O’Neale rebounded a miss for a 32-16 lead with 5:27 left in the first half.
But TCU never caved. Though the Horned Frogs played hard, Baylor allowed them back in the game as Drew rotated players in hopes of keeping his players fresh for the rest of the tournament.
“I thought I rotated a little bit more than I’ve been doing in the last couple of games,” said Drew. “Sometimes it’s the worst thing, when you get to a lead, and we’ve played two games against TCU and done very well. I think wanting to keep guys fresh for today’s game, and you also think big picture.
“Credit them. They made big shots, made a lot of late-shot-clock baskets. When we had some opportunities to get rebounds, they made some great hustle plays. We’ll have to watch film and see why we didn’t get more of those rebounds that were critical to extend the lead.”
TCU, which trailed by as many as 17 in the second half, made a run at Baylor and drew within 69-63 on Jarvis Ray’s steal and jam with 2:28 left in regulation. Austin posted up and regained control of the game by completing a three-point play for a 72-63 lead with 2 minutes to play.
Baylor led TCU 47-30 early in the second half when the Horned Frogs went on a 14-6 run and drew within 53-46 midway through the second half on a basket by Karviar Sheppard, who led TCU with 19 points.
But O’Neale answered with a three-point play, and backup forward Taurean Prince scored five straight points on a three-point play and inside basket, giving the Bears a 61-47 lead.
“TP definitely gave us a lift,” Jefferson said of Prince. “He’s always the player to come in and give us energy on the court hustle plays. He scored in spurts, and that’s what the team needs, and he brings that.”
Baylor’s win marked only the second time the Bears had beaten a Big 12 team three times in a season, last accomplishing the feat in 2010 against Texas. The Bears will be trying to avoid being swept by Oklahoma, which won both regular-season meetings this season.
“It’s going to be another Big 12 battle,” Jefferson said. “Both teams are going to be ready. It was a close one at our house. They’re going to be ready to play us. they don’t want to lose."