Cats face another test in Baylor

By Cole Manbeck

Kansas State could complain about the opening to its Big 12 schedule, but the Wildcats love challenges, so the message is simple: Bring on Baylor.

“We’re gonna have to meet up with them anyways,” K-State guard Will Spradling said. “If you don’t like to compete then you’re not gonna be any good. I’m a competitive person, our team is competitive and we’re ready to get after it.”

K-State, ranked No. 23 in last week’s poll, host the fourth-ranked Bears tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum.

“You gotta love the Big 12,” K-State head coach Frank Martin said. “Go on the road, play a top-15 school, come home, play the seventh team in the country. Then enjoy this so you can play the fourth team in the country. Gotta love this league.”

Baylor (15-0, 2-0 in Big 12 play) is one of just three unbeaten teams in all of college basketball. The Bears are one of the most talented teams in the country, possessing NBA talent all over their frontcourt. Perry Jones III, a 6-foot-11, 235-pound forward, is considered a sure-fire lottery pick, while Quincy Miller, the No. 7 player in the 2011 recruiting class, is another forward averaging 11.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game as a freshman. Both Jones and Miller were five-star recruits, while six other Baylor players were ranked in Rivals’ top 150 players in their respective recruiting classes.

The Bears are one of the longest and most athletic teams in the country, particularly in the paint.

Jones is averaging 13 points and 7.2 rebounds, while Quincy Acy, a 6-7 senior, averages 12.1 points and 7.2 boards.

Miller, at 6-8, has produced at a high rate. Anthony Jones, a 6-10 senior, provides 6.1 points and four rebounds off the bench.

Cory Jefferson, a 6-9, 210-pound sophomore, also comes off the bench and is giving the Bears 5.2 points and 3.7 rebounds, while ranking second on the team in blocked shots with 28.

Baylor ranks sixth in the country with seven blocked shots per game, and that length makes its zone defense effective. The Bears are seventh nationally, holding teams to 36.3 percent shooting.

But perhaps the biggest difference to this team compared to last year’s is the arrival of point guard Pierre Jackson. The Bears underachieved last season, going 18-13 and failing to make the NCAA tournament. That was due in large part to a failure to take care of the basketball, but Jackson, a junior college transfer, has taken over. The 5-10 guard comes off the bench and is averaging 12.1 points, has 68 assists to 54 turnovers, and leads the team with 26 steals this season.

Making the Bears even more dangerous is the arrival of guard Brady Heslip, who is averaging 10.5 points per game. Heslip has made 51 shots this season, with 44 of those makes coming from beyond the arc, where he is connecting on nearly 50 percent of his 3-point attempts.

The Bears have opened Big 12 play 2-0, defeating Texas A&M in Waco and Texas Tech in Lubbock. K-State lost its Big 12 opener, falling to No. 14 Kansas in Lawrence. But the Wildcats returned home to hand seventh-ranked Missouri its first loss of the season, knocking the Tigers from their throne as one of the unbeatens.

And for the second time in four days, the Wildcats hope to eliminate another one of college basketball’s unbeaten teams.

“Conference play is crazy,” Martin said. “You gotta protect your home court and we did that (against Missouri). Now we gotta get ready to protect it again.”

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