DALLAS – Friday was the start of the college basketball season and three Big 12 Conference men’s teams opened their seasons by being part of a tripleheader at the American Airlines Center.
The Buckets And Boots Showcase (more buckets than boots, fortunately) was conceived to provide a start to the road to the Final Four, which will be held at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, with the Big 12 serving as the host institution.
The finish is five months away but the beginning can be significant. Oklahoma and Baylor opened with victories while TCU suffered a loss that nonetheless can supply a building block for the rest of the season.
Baylor 72, Colorado 60
Get ready to play lineup bingo. Baylor has depth and coach Scott Drew is not afraid to use it. Who’s starting? Who’s playing? The answers will likely be different game to game.
“We might have a different lineup every game, every half,” Drew said. “We’re a deeper team and want to use that to our advantage. With the fouls, we needed a lot of guys.”
The Bears had nine players play 10 or more minutes as one player fouled out and three others finished with four fouls. Baylor’s depth helped it apply the defensive pressure that helped make the difference in a 72-60 victory over Colorado.
The Buffaloes shot 33.3 percent from the field, including an icy 21.2 percent in the first half. Baylor used a surge over the final 3:30 of the first half to take a 30-20 halftime lead. Five different Bears had baskets.
“I love the depth and my confidence in this team is very high,” said senior Cory Jefferson, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds. “We went to our bench and still got production. Everybody has a job on this team and we’ve got a lot of options on the perimeter.”
Sophomore forward Taurean Prince had 10 points and eight rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench. Junior point guard Kenny Chery, who is taking over for Pierre Jackson, had a team-high 14 points with four assists and two turnovers.
“I thought Kenny did an outstanding job,” Drew said. “His offensive numbers were good but I think he was outstanding on the defensive end. He can score but he really can defend.”
Baylor’s defense was evident as it closed out the win. Senior Brady Heslip didn’t start but he was 4-of-6 on 3-pointers and three of those came over the final nine minutes as the Bears kept the Buffs from making a run.
After Jefferson missed a follow dunk and Colorado scored to make it 64-58, Baylor came up empty on its next possession. The Buffs, though, spent their next possession probing and passing around the Baylor defense until Askia Booker forced and missed a jumper with four seconds on the shot clock and 1:24 on the game clock. When Isaiah Austin scored from the low post at 50.4, the Bears had their first victory well in hand.
“I thought their guards outplayed our guards and our front court guys came close to out playing a front court that’s got two NBA prospects,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “We just didn’t play well enough to win. We battled but the better team won. This opportunity is gone forever.”
The Buffs, though, appear to be a team that can finish in the upper half of the Pac-12 Conference. And if that happens, the season opener’s outcome will be significant for Baylor.
“These kinds of games help you when you get to conference play and to beat a team as good as Colorado could help you in the seeding process in March,” Drew said.
Oklahoma 82, Alabama 73
A hearty Sooners welcome to Oklahoma’s new star-Spangler player.
With OU needing to replace three front-court players who averaged nearly 32 points and 16 rebounds for last season’s NCAA Tournament team, Ryan Spangler was expected to step in and fill the inside scoring and rebounding void. For one game, mission accomplished.
“It felt great to be back but last year was worth it to work on my game,” said Spangler, who is from Tuttle, Okla. “One my goals is to rebound. Getting rebounds, playing defense, diving after loose balls … that’s what wins games.”
Spangler, a 6-8 sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Gonzaga, had 15 points (most on follow shots) and 12 rebounds as the Sooners opened the season with an impressive 82-73 victory over Alabama.
“We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of work to do,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “It’s one game, one win but you look back later in the year and they all count. We opened up shaky and dug a hole but it was good to see us claw back.”
Oklahoma, starting just one senior, three sophomores and a freshman, showed poise in recovering from a 16-point deficit eight minutes into the game.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield, who led four Sooners in double figures with 19 points, said the early deficit was a slap in the face. Kruger, however, didn’t call a timeout to stem the tide. He let his players work it out.
“Wow, we got to pick it up,” Hield said when he glanced at the scoreboard. “Ryan helped us by picking it up on defense and he gave us a lot of energy. We just wanted to stay confident. We’ve got to get used to being down maybe 10 points when we go on the road in the Big 12.”
Alabama was on pace to score over 100 as it raced to a 26-10 lead in the first eight minutes. The Crimson Tide made 10 of their first 14 shots. Considering most of those shots were on hard-edged drives to the basket, that sort of accuracy wasn’t surprising.
“Coach is gonna be pointing that out on the film,” Hield said with a rueful grin. “We were getting’ beat off the dribble way too much.”
Alabama shot 56.7 percent (17-of-30) in the first 20 minutes with nine of those field goals point-blank layups/drives.
“They opened and drove it at us and won that battle right off the bat,” Kruger said. “They set the tone. We didn’t handle that very well. We started attacking and covering better, got more active on defense.”
The Sooners responded to the early deficit with a 21-6 run. That turned a blow out into a ball game. To start the second half, OU clamped down on the Tide even more. Alabama missed was 4-of-17 from the field and had four turnovers in the first 10 minutes after halftime.
Hield’s 3-pointer with 14:03 remaining gave Oklahoma a 54-51 lead and the Sooners kept control the rest of the way. Alabama closed to within 67-66 with 6:07 to play but Hield’s dunk off a run-out fast break restored order.
SMU 69, TCU 61
After an 11-21 season that featured just two Big 12 victories, a season-opening loss to a cross-town rival would seem to be more of the same ol’, same ol’ for TCU.
But there were positives in the season opener, even if the Horned Frogs came up on the wrong end of a 69-61 outcome.
“We’re gonna build off of this game, we will build off of it,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “The key for us is to getting healthy. It’s hard to have a smiley face when you lose. It was a tough loss.”
TCU started two freshmen and the team’s tallest available player was Karviar Shepherd, a 6-10 freshman. The Mustangs height, length and quickness smothered the Frogs during the first eight minutes. SMU freshman Keith Frazier’s 3-pointer with 11:29 left in the first half for a 21-8 advantage.
Instead of a lopsided loss, TCU made it a competitive defeat. The Frogs switched to a zone defense and their offense started clicking thanks to freshman Brandon Parrish who finished with 13. He scored eight straight points to kick start a comeback. TCU trailed 30-29 at halftime and took a 36-30 lead early in the second half.
“I’m not ecstatic,” SMU coach Larry Brown said. “I feel bad for Trent, he’s got a lot of his big guys on the bench. Trent never plays zone, we weren’t ready for that. I thought there was a rule that you can’t play zone in first game.
“We had a chance to blow it open and we started playing like it was a summer league game. TCU did a phenomenal job of getting back in the game.”
Brown said his big players played small and it’s hard to argue with a coach who has championships in the NCAA and the NBA. But in the second half, SMU scored 14 off second chances – offensive rebounds or possessions where TCU failed to secure a Mustang miss.
That was too much for TCU to overcome. Jarvis Ray’s layup after a Shepherd steal pulled the Frogs within 58-55 with 4:38 to play. But SMU’s Ryan Manuel, who finished with 12 points, scored eight of the Mustangs’ last 11 points.
“We had a lot of opportunities to win the game,” said Ray, a senior. “If we stick together and knock down shots like we do in practice, we’ll be fine.