Jones' return poses challenge for Longhorns

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Forward Perry Jones III has recovered from an ankle injury and will play on Saturday. He leads Baylor with 15.1 points per game.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Baylor Bears got their swagger and their best player back this week. That’s bad news for Texas and the rest of the Big 12.

The No. 6 Bears (18-2; 5-2 Big 12) snapped a two-game losing streak with a win over Oklahoma on Tuesday thanks to the return of star forward Perry Jones III. Jones injured his ankle in BU’s first loss of the season, a defeat at Kansas on Jan. 16. He hobbled through another loss against Missouri Jan. 21, and then exploded for 21 points and 12 rebounds versus the Sooners this past Tuesday.

“Welcome back, Perry Jones,” Bears head coach Scott Drew told reporters after beating Oklahoma. “After he tweaked that ankle in Kansas, for a game-and-a-half I think that affected him. He had two good practices and mentally got right and physically has gotten better.”

A healthy Jones dramatically increases the Bears’ chances of beating Texas on Saturday afternoon, when the Longhorns (13-7, 3-4) travel north on Interstate Highway 35 for a matchup in Waco.

“He’s back to playing how he’s capable of playing,” Drew said.

Jones, a sophomore, is one of the conference’s best frontcourt players when healthy, and has been considered by scouts as an NBA lottery pick since his rookie year. He leads the Bears with 15.1 points per game, good for 11th in the conference. Jones also averages 8.4 rebounds per game (third in the league) and shoots 55 percent.

The Baylor frontcourt is also among the Big 12’s best. And it’s deeper than just Jones. Senior Quincy Acy averages just over five rebounds and 13 points per game. And freshman Quincy Miller also ranks in the top 20 in scoring with a 15.3 average.

BU should be able to outmuscle the Longhorns inside. But if the Longhorns send double teams to defend the Bears’ big men, BU’s 3-point threats could burn Texas. Baylor’s junior guard Pierre Jackson shoots 50 percent from 3 (37 of 73), tops in the Big 12, and made 3 of 4 against the Sooners.

“Our bigs are great on offense and a lot of teams like to double down,” Jackson said. “So me, Brady [Heslip] and Gary [Franklin] try to help them out and knock down threes whenever we can, and get in transition.”

The Bears shot 9 of 18 from beyond the arc against OU, making the Sooners pay when they overprotected the paint. If the Longhorns focus on stopping Baylor’s inside threats, look for Drew to unleash his shooters.

“I think one thing is with our inside game, it gets a lot of recognition and notoriety,” Drew said. “A lot of people choose to kind of focus on that and it gives us some pretty good looks from the outside. And we have some players who are capable of making open shots from the outside.”

Printed on Friday, January 27, 2012 as: Jones' return to starting lineup gives Baylor offensive threat