Anaheim, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The NCAA Tournament's West Regional at the Honda Center features a rare first-ever meeting on Thursday, as the Baylor Bears clash with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Baylor, which first appeared in this tournament back in 1946 and has a record of 11-9 in the event overall, has posted eight of those victories under the current regime led by head coach Scott Drew. Now in his 11th season with the Bears, Drew has turned around a program that won a total of just 21 games in his first three campaigns to 26 this year alone.
Among the wins on that list for sixth-seeded Baylor are the two in the earlier rounds of this tourney, as the squad dismissed Nebraska in the second round on Friday, 74-60, and then completely crushed 16th-ranked Creighton, 85-55 on Sunday.
Going up against Baylor are the Badgers, led by Bo Ryan, who is in his 13th year in Madison. Ryan, who is one of only five active Division I coaches with 700 career wins (702 and counting), is also the all-time winningest coach for Wisconsin with 319 victories. Since losing to Michigan State during the Big Ten Conference Tournament, Ryan and his crew have picked up a pair of wins in this event.
The Badgers, the second seed in the region, scored one of the most lopsided wins in tourney history in the opener with a 75-35 romp over American and followed that up with an 85-77 triumph versus seventh-seeded Oregon on Saturday.
The winner of this meeting will be back in action on Saturday versus the survivor of the San Diego State/Arizona matchup for the right to represent the region in the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.
Against one of the most decorated players in college history and the nation's leading scorer this season, the Bears went on the attack at both ends of the floor on Sunday and subsequently crushed Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays by 30 points. In addition to holding McDermott (15 points) far below his season's average, the Bears put all five starters in double figures, beginning with Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip with 17 points apiece. Kenny Chery and Cory Jefferson followed with 14 each and Royce O'Neale added 10 points to go along with eight assists.
Jefferson, the only player to have started all 37 games for the Bears, heads a list of four double-digit scorers with his 13.6 ppg, pacing the squad on the glass as well with 8.2 rpg. While Jefferson focuses his efforts in the paint for the most part, Heslip (11.9 ppg) plays offense almost exclusively on the perimeter, where he has knocked down 117 of his 250 3-point tries. Chery (11.5 ppg) and Austin (11.2 ppg) account for 173 assists and 117 blocked shots, respectively.
The Badgers could have easily folded against Oregon last weekend, trailing by 12 at the break, but a 17-6 run to kick off the second half brought Wisconsin back and from there the team did what was necessary to pull off the win. Frank Kaminsky's 19 points led all five starters in double figures, while Traevon Jackson responded with 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Josh Gasser added 13 points, followed by Sam Dekker and Ben Brust with 12 points apiece, the former clearing eight boards and the latter hitting on four of his eight 3-point tries.
Like Baylor, the Badgers are also very well balanced on offense, with Kaminsky pacing a group of four in double figures with his 13.6 ppg. Brust (13.0 ppg) follows as the 3-point specialist with his 89 conversions, while Dekker (12.7 ppg) and Jackson (10.8 ppg) shoulder some of the load as well, with Jackson being the set-up man with 138 assists. Not only does Wisconsin take great care of the ball, averaging only 8.0 turnovers per contest, it is also punishing at the defensive end with only 64.1 ppg allowed.