Baylor coach Scott Drew knows the Virginia basketball team will still have the university’s campus tragedy in mind when the Cavaliers face the Bears on Friday night in Las Vegas.
Three Virginia football players were shot and killed by an ex-Cavaliers football player on Sunday.
“I talked to (Virginia basketball coach) Tony Bennett and said I wanted to see how they’re doing,” Drew said. “My thoughts and prayers are with them. Actually our players wrote their team notes. Obviously their minds are going to be on something different, and they’ve got a lot of people praying for them.”
The No. 16 Cavaliers canceled their game against Northern Iowa on Monday, but Friday’s 6 p.m. game against the No. 5 Bears at T-Mobile Arena will be played.
The game is part of the Continental Tire Main Event that also includes No. 8 UCLA facing No. 19 Illinois at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The championship game will be played at 2 p.m. Sunday followed by the consolation game at 4:30 p.m.
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After opening with three wins at the Ferrell Center, the Bears are ready for a major step up in competition against the Cavaliers (2-0).
“It’s all Top 25 teams, and we’re really amped up to play those teams and looking forward to going out there and winning,” said Baylor guard LJ Cryer.
Both programs have won national championships in recent years with Virginia winning the 2019 title and the Bears taking the 2021 crown.
Bennett’s squads are always built on suffocating defense, and Drew knows the Cavaliers will make every possession difficult to score.
“They don’t beat themselves, they make it really tough to score, and they do a great job controlling tempo and making you play defense for 30 seconds,” Drew said. “When his teams are the best, like most coaches, is when they have a large returning number, and they return 90 percent of their scoring, which is the most in Division I.”
The Cavaliers feature a balanced attack led by senior guard Armaan Franklin, who is averaging 14.5 points while nailing six of 11 3-pointers. Freshman guard Ryan Dunn is averaging 13 points and six boards while senior center Francisco Caffaro is averaging 10 points and four boards and junior forward Kadin Shedrick is averaging 9.5 points and 14 rebounds.
Freshman guard Isaac McNeely is another 3-point shooting threat as he’s hit five of 10, and graduate student Ben Vander Plas has buried four of seven treys.
The Bears will counter with an explosive offense that’s averaging 99.7 points per game. Senior guard Adam Flagler is averaging 17.3 points and 7.7 assists while junior forward Jalen Bridges is averaging 16 points and three rebounds.
Freshman guard Keyonte George is averaging 16 points, six rebounds and 6.7 assists and junior guard LJ Cryer is averaging 14.3 points. After hitting just two of 12 3-pointers against Norfolk State, Cryer bounced back by hitting four of nine treys while scoring 20 points in Baylor’s 95-62 win over Northern Colorado.
“It felt good,” Cryer said. “My teammates found me and I was able to make shots. The game before, it was a rough one for me, so of course there’s a confidence booster. I just try to have the next game mentality.”
UCLA and Illinois come into the tournament with a 3-0 records. The Illini feature a pair of former Bears in forward Dain Dainja, who is averaging 17.3 points and a team-high 9.7 rebounds, and guard Matthew Mayer, who is averaging five points and three rebounds.
“Matt has been a good teammate,” Cryer said. “Dain Dainja was my roommate, so it’ll definitely feel weird to see him in a different uniform, but I’ll be happy to see those guys. Maybe we’ll play them. Who knows?”