Baylor makes statement with victory

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Lost amid the caterwauling and worry over the fact that Kentucky has now lost two games in a row is this little nugget: In beating the Wildcats 64-55, Baylor won a nonconference road game against a Top-25 opponent for the first time in the program's history.

And won it, by the way, in one of the most notoriously difficult places to win a game: Rupp Arena.

That no one really paid the victory any mind isn't a surprise to Baylor. After two Elite Eight runs in the past three years, the Bears still feel like outliers on the national college basketball picture.

"Oh yeah, people don't give us the respect we deserve," senior guard Pierre Jackson said. "We still have to prove people wrong."

A year ago, Baylor waltzed into the preseason armed with a loaded roster and a heap of expectations, and though the Bears made it back to the Elite Eight, they never looked quite as good during the games as they did in the layup lines.

This season, head coach Scott Drew has another pretty roster -- including 7-foot-1 freshman Isaiah Austin -- but an equally shaky start. Before their win over Kentucky, the Bears lost to College of Charleston.

It is that inconsistency that gives the doubters credence to go all-in on Baylor, a niggling sense that their margin for error is minuscule. And no doubt, that was the case against UK. Kentucky shot 29 percent for the game and 18 percent from the arc, pulled down 21 offensive rebounds but only scored eight second-chance points, and yet was in the game until the bitter end.

Why? Because Baylor coughed up 19 turnovers and got smoked on the boards 48-37.

So this was not exactly a thing of beauty. But what Baylor has, at least right now, is a healthier balance of freshmen and veterans. Drew's roster includes five rookies, but he also has a been-there-done-that veteran backcourt in the form of Jackson, A.J. Walton and Brady Heslip. They simply don't get rattled, and when the game needed to be won, they won it.

"They've been through big games, they've been through 30-win seasons, they've been through [being] a game away from a Final Four," Drew said. "They're used to playing in front of big crowds, big stages and again make big plays."

A year ago, Kentucky ended Baylor's season in the Elite Eight, eliminating the Bears with relative ease, 82-70. Players from that team -- Quincy Acy among them -- reached out to guys on this season's squad and asked them to exact a little bit of revenge.

Never mind that this Wildcats team is entirely different from the one that beat Baylor -- the Bears wanted to take back the victory.

They did, but that only wins the battle, not the war. Baylor is a team that, on personnel alone, should factor into the Big 12 race. Whether this game is a one-hit wonder or the start of something with more staying power will determine that.

"We wanted to come out strong and show people that our two losses at the beginning of the season don't mean anything," Austin said. "We're still a powerhouse program."