If this NCAA tournament comes down to which team can function the best if the power fails, Baylor’s your champ. The Bears wear yellow uniforms that could pass for landing lights at Hartsfield-Jackson.
(Officially the Baylor colors are green and gold. I don’t care. These uniforms are gold in the way that Tennessee wears burgundy.)
(Update: I’m told the Bears’ look has been dubbed “Electricity.” Was I right about a power failure or what?)
Remember those Power Ranger Pro Combat togs the Georgia Bulldogs sported against Boise State last September? They’ve been eclipsed as the most garish uniforms ever worn by a team under the off-white roof of the Georgia Dome. But give the Bears this: They showed up and played a heck of a lot better than Georgia did.
Baylor hit Xavier so hard so fast that the tournament-tested Musketeers didn’t know whether to spit or call timeout. Oddly enough, Xavier coach Chris Mack spent only one in the time it took the Bears to seize a 22-4 lead, and that was pretty much that. The Musketeers would draw no closer than four until the final 30 seconds, and then not for long.
In a South Regional that’s supposed to belong to the gifted Kentucky Wildcats, Baylor served notice that it can match talent with just about anybody. The Bears are the kind of team NBA scouts love, tall and quick and strong, and they’ve won 30 games without losing to anybody who didn’t make the Big Dance.
Center Perry Jones III is generally identified as the best of the Bears, but the heavy lifting Friday was done by forward Quincy Acy. (Not to be confused with fellow forward Quincy Miller, just as Perry Jones III isn’t to be confused with point guard Pierre Jackson.) Acy sports much hair on his chin but rather less on his head, and there were moments against Xavier when he resembled a smaller Nate Thurmond.
Acy scored 20 points — on only 11 shots — and took 15 rebounds. Both his dunks were the shot that trigger a “Whoa!” from even the most jaded observer. And the Bears spent the first eight minutes playing as if inducing something approaching awe was their intent. After Miller hoisted an air ball on the game’s first possession, Baylor scored on 11 of its next 12 trips.
Xavier never quite went away — if we’ve learned anything from the Muskies this season, it’s that they can take a punch — but none of its repeated attempts to rally bore the ring of authenticity. Baylor was too big, too strong, too skilled. Not long ago there were questions about the Bears’ toughness, but they looked plenty gritty this night.
That said, Friday’s opening game did have the feel of a warmup act. The biggest cheer of the game was loosed when the Kentucky cheerleaders and pep band walked in. The Dome was overrun with Big Blue, as is the Cat-lanta custom, but there was much Hoosier crimson to be seen, too.
And why not? Kentucky has won seven NCAA titles, Indiana five. The two played one of the regular season’s finest games on Dec. 10, the Hoosiers prevailing in Bloomington on Christian Watford’s famous trey. (Speaking of famous shots by a guy named Christian: A certain basket by a certain Mr. Laettner was shown on the matrix board during the Baylor-Xavier game. Kentucky fans were unamused.)
Fans of both the Wildcats and the Hoosiers had to be impressed by what they saw from Baylor. One of them will face the Bears in Sunday’s regional final, and the team from the planet Neon is too gifted — and its uniforms too garish — to be ignored. For all the lip service paid to the hoops bluebloods colliding in Game 2 Friday, the South could turn out to be Bear territory.
By Mark Bradley