KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Baylor looked like a team still scratching and clawing to get into the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
By the time Oklahoma started fighting back, it was too late.
The No. 17-ranked Sooners’ struggles in the Big 12 Championships continued Thursday night as Oklahoma fell to the Bears 78-73 at Sprint Center.
The Sooners had played their best basketball down the stretch, winning five of six since a Feb. 12 home loss to Texas Tech.
But Baylor had been even better, winning seven of its last eight and now winning two games in the tournament to advance to the semifinals. The Bears will face Texas or West Virginia at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Oklahoma (23-9) will await its NCAA Tournament fate until Sunday.
“It just shows us how much better we need to get by next week,” Sooners forward Ryan Spangler said. “There’s a lot of things we need to work on. Defense is one of them.”
Especially on the inside.
The game was similar to the loss to Tech in that the Sooners fell behind big early before fighting back to make it tight in the closing minutes.
But in the loss to Tech, the Sooners were plagued by turnovers that led to easy points.
Baylor hit the offensive boards hard early, repeatedly getting second and third chances in the opening 10 minutes. At one point midway through the first half, with the Sooners’ deficit lingering near double digits already, Baylor had as many offensive rebounds as Oklahoma did total rebounds.
“We just didn’t fight,” Sooners guard Je’lon Hornbeak said. “We didn’t fight as hard as we should have. The last two times we played them pretty evenly on the boards and today, the first half, we got outrebounded. We kind of evened the margin up toward the end of the game, but we can’t get down like that.”
Still, the Sooners came back from a 21-point deficit early in the second half. OU cut it to four before it started fouling to put Baylor on the free-throw line.
The Sooners trailed 72-68 with 1:30 left after Buddy Hield’s 3-pointer.
Baylor gave OU an even better chance when Royce O’Neale airmailed a pass over the head of Gary Franklin on the next possession.
But Hield passed on a look of his own to kick to freshman point guard Jordan Woodard up top. Woodard’s 3-pointer clanged away, Isaiah Austin grabbed the rebound and Baylor hit a pair of free throws on the other end to extend the margin.
“Jordan had a better shot,” Hield said. “I forced a couple shots earlier, and I was trying to lock in and focus. Jordan had a great look. I thought it was a dagger, and it didn’t stay in. We just need to make shots.
“Everybody didn’t come out ready to make shots. I was short all game and I was just starting to pick it up a little bit, but we’ve got to lock in and fight. We can’t be having breakdowns like this anymore.”
The Sooners did cut it to three on Woodard’s 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left, but Brady Heslip’s free throws ended it.
Cam Clark had 19 points to lead Oklahoma, and Hield added 15. But the pair combined to shoot just 14 of 34.
“I feel like this is a good loss for us,” Hield said. “Even though we wanted to win the Big 12 championship, I feel like we needed to practice hard and catch ourselves. We’re not as good a team as we think, and we need to get back on track and just get ready to compete hard. I feel like next game, the guys will compete hard.”