Jared Butler and still-undefeated No. 2 Baylor are ready to get back to playing games after a three-week break because of COVID-19 issues in the program.
The Bears (17-0, 9-0 Big 12) are set to resume their season Tuesday night at home against Iowa State. It will be their first game since Feb. 2 and the first of three games in five days.
“Seeing everybody else play, I kind of feel like I’ve been missing out,” Butler said Monday during a Zoom call from the campus in Waco, Texas. “What do you call it when your parents punish you and you can’t go outside and play with your friends? That’s what it’s been feeling like.”
Baylor has had six games postponed since an 83-69 win at No. 14 Texas, when the Bears matched the best start in school history. They were also 17-0 in 2011-12.
Neither the Big 12 or the school have provided specific details about the postponements, other than to say they were in accordance with the league’s interruption guidelines for men’s basketball. That indicates that the Bears didn’t have the required six scholarship players for games, either because of multiple positive tests or contact tracing.
“It was hard, emotionally, because basketball is a big part of our lives, and you expect to play all through February,” Butler said. “You sat there going to school and feeling like a regular student for a little bit. But I also enjoyed it, and realized that there’s a lot more games to play and we’re going to need this energy. And it was kind of a blessing because we get to rest up and rejuvenate.”
Coach Scott Drew said the Bears had their first regular practice in three weeks on Sunday.
“It felt like you were coming back from Christmas break, where you were just excited to be back in the gym, excited to see everybody,” Drew said. “Needless to say, I think the guys were pretty tired.”
Butler said the Bears were a “little rusty” during a 5-on-5 portion, but he didn't feel they had lost much of their step.
“It wasn’t like we just lost complete control and we weren’t able to play basketball," said Butler, second in the Big 12 with 17 points per game. “It was good. I think it was better than what we expected.”
Asked if the Bears would be at full strength against Iowa State (2-16, 0-13), Drew said, in sticking to protocols, that the school would release a list of who's available and not available an hour before tipoff Tuesday night.
With Baylor only halfway through its 18-game Big 12 schedule, every other team has played at least 11 conference games.
Only No 17 Kansas (17-7, 11-5) is set to finish its full league slate as initially scheduled by the end of this week, with a home game Saturday against Baylor. The Big 12 left next week open for makeup games before the league tournament March 10-13 in Kansas City.
The Bears have won all but two of their games by more than 10 points. Their only games without double-figure margins were back-to-back eight-point wins at No. 18 Texas Tech and then home against Kansas.
“I’d like to believe that we’re going to pick up where we left off,” Butler said. “It’s going to be a little hard in the first few minutes just to get our wind back, but I think ultimately, we’re going to get back in our groove.”
The only one of the six postponed games from the past three weeks that has been rescheduled is a home game that will be played Thursday against No. 10 West Virginia. The Bears also have not made up their scheduled Big 12 home opener against Texas that wasn't played Dec. 13.
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