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Baylor Bears claw their way into title game

By McClatchy News Services

LAST UPDATED: 07:53 p.m. HST, Mar 14, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Inside, Cory Jefferson was active and athletic, wreaking havoc against Texas defenders.

Outside, Brady Heslip was taking -- and making -- the opportunity 3-pointers that have become his calling card.

When both are clicking at their respective specialties, Baylor becomes a nightmare matchup as Texas discovered Friday in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship semifinals. The two combined for 25 points the first half and 44 points overall as Baylor cruised past Texas, 86-69, and into the Saturday night's championship game against Iowa State.

Scott Drew recorded his 202nd win, moving past Bill Henderson and becoming the winningest coach in school history.

The Big 12 is assured of having the lowest seed to win the tournament with Iowa State entering as the fourth seed and Baylor seventh.

"We know that we're playing for a championship," Jefferson said. "We're confident that we can win that."

Baylor has won 10 of its 11 games after starting 2-8 in the Big 12.

"I just want to win a championship with these guys, with this team," said Heslip, who was on the 2012 team that lost to Missouri in the Big 12 finals. "Now it's the second time and we're not just here for the experience, we're here to perform."

Each team has incentive.

Iowa State (25-7) hasn't won the tournament championship since 2000. Baylor (24-10) hasn't hoisted a trophy in any conference tournament and is trying to become the first team to win four games in four days after entering as the seventh seed.

Each is seeking to boost its NCAA Tournament seed. Iowa State could leapfrog all the way to a No. 2 seed with a tournament win. Baylor, with 10 wins against teams ranked in the RPI top 50, has already moved off the dreaded 8-9 seed line.

The two teams split in the regular season, each winning at home.

Texas (23-10) will wait to see how much a late-season slide will hurt its seeding. Coach Rick Barnes thought his team might have found something in an opening win Thursday against West Virginia.

"Disappointed that we went go from playing one of our best defensive games to not doing it," Barnes said.

Maybe no sequence showed the contributions of Jefferson and Heslip more than an 11-0 Baylor run late in the first half.

Jefferson attempted to dunk on a rebound and instead banged the ball hard off the rim. It caromed long to Heslip, who immediately connected from 25 feet. On the next Baylor possession, the 6-9 Jefferson didn't miss on a rebound dunk, drew a foul in the process and completed the three-point play.

Jefferson finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds for his third consecutive double-double in the tournament. Heslip led Baylor with 24 points, connecting on 6 of 11 3-pointers. Center Isaiah Austin added 10 points, five rebounds and seven blocks.

Jonathan Holmes and Javan Felix, the Texas counterparts to Jefferson and Heslip, shot 0-of-6 in the first half and failed to score.

No wonder Baylor led 42-27 at halftime against a team that had beaten it twice in the regular season.

Freshman guard Isaiah Taylor led Texas with 18 points. The Longhorns never got closer than 11 in the second half.

Iowa State will not be easy.

After watching Iowa State shoot 54 percent for the game and 68 percent in the second in a 94-83 win, Kansas coach Bill Self offered a warning about defending the Cyclones.

"I'm not going to say there are not other teams in the country that aren't potentially as good as Iowa State offensively," Self said. "But we're not going to play a team, more than likely, in the tournament that's better than Iowa State was tonight offensively."

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