No. 2 Baylor primed for top after 57-36 win over No. 6 Nova

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Baylor forward Flo Thamba, left, applies the defensive pressure on Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Ray Carlin)

WACO, Texas – No matter where Villanova guards Justin Moore and Collin Gillespie turned, there was another Baylor defender smothering them.

And now the defending national champion Bears are poised to be No. 1 for the first time this season.

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James Akinjo had 16 points and second-ranked Baylor defensively dominated in a 57-36 victory Sunday over the sixth-ranked Wildcats, who scored their fewest points and had their worst-shooting game in coach Jay Wright’s 21 seasons.

“We’re a pretty good shooting team. I really chalk up our missed shots to their defense,” Wright said, describing the Bears as physical, tough and quick.

“They did a great job of being physical with us, getting up in us,” Moore said. “Then we make the extra pass, they’re recovering.”

The Bears (9-0) never trailed in their first nonconference home game ever against a top-six opponent, this one a rematch of an NCAA Sweet 16 game last March in Indianapolis. This Big East/Big 12 Battle matchup featured the teams that won three of the last five NCAA titles.

Villanova (7-3) shot only 22% (12 of 54) with several extended scoring droughts in its 689th game under Wright, whose two NCAA titles were both won recently in Texas — in Houston in 2016 and San Antonio in 2018. The 36 points tied the fewest by a top-10 team in the shot clock era (since 1985-86), and marked Nova’s first game under 40 points since 1979.

“We’ve got a really good team, everybody can score 1 through 5. But the separator is getting those stops," Akinjo said. "We all take pride in our individual matchups. We compete against each other every day.”

Adam Flagler had 10 points as Baylor, which won its NCAA-best 15th game in a row dating to last season, shot 39% (22 of 56) and was held under 69 points for the first time this season. Jeremy Sochan had nine points and 10 rebounds before fouling out.

Moore had 15 points on 5-of-14 shooting for Villanova.

Top-ranked Purdue lost to Rutgers on Thursday night, clearing the way for Baylor to move up to the No. 1 spot when the new Associated Press poll comes out Monday. Baylor never made it to No. 1 in a poll during the regular season last year on the way to its national title, and last was in that spot during the 2019-20 season.

"It’s exciting, but we honestly don’t really think about that,” Flagler said. “Like Coach (Scott) Drew said, the most important thing is being No. 1 at the end.”

Baylor, which had to overcome a 30-23 halftime deficit in the Sweet 16 matchup, took control with an 11-0 run during a five-minute scoring drought by the Wildcats late in the first half. The Bears led 25-9 before Gillespie made a drought-breaking 3-pointer.

Villanova missed nine in a row in an early scoreless span of more than 7 1/2 minutes while the Bears only scored four points of their own. The Wildcats then missed six shots over more than five minutes during another scoreless drought in the second half.


Villanova: The previous scoring low under Wright came in a 46-40 loss to UConn on Feb. 11, 2002, in Wright’s first season. ... Gillespie, the team’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game, finished with six points on two 3s in the final 2:48 of the first half.

Baylor: Akinjo, a senior transfer in his first season at Baylor, began his college career in the Big East at Georgetown before playing at Arizona last year. He also had five assists. ... The Bears have won eight consecutive games against top-10 teams, and are 18-3 against ranked opponents over the last three seasons. They extended their record home winning streak to 19 in a row, and have won 33 consecutive nonconference games since November 2020.


ESPN analyst Dick Vitale was presented with a No. 42 Baylor jersey before the game, marking 42 years in broadcasting and his first trip to Waco. It was only the third game this season for the 82-year-old Vitale, who in October was diagnosed with lymphoma after earlier surgeries to remove melanoma. He got a huge ovation then and at halftime when a video was shown with highlights from his career, including a clip from his first game for ESPN on Dec. 5, 1979, and his work with the Jimmy V Foundation. That video ended with Drew’s imitation of Vitale’s “It’s awesome, baby,” and lauding Vitale for what he has done for college basketball and efforts to fight cancer, both personally and for others.


Villanova: Plays its Big East opener at Creighton on Friday night.

Baylor: After final exams this week, the Bears play at Oregon on Saturday night.


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