Recent national champions Virginia and Baylor align on Friday night in Las Vegas with a chance to prove their modern-day contender status.
No. 5 Baylor and No. 16 Virginia are part of the first round of the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas, which features No. 8 UCLA against No. 18 Illinois in a four-team showcase. The winners meet Sunday in the championship game and a consolation game awaits the two teams that lose Friday.
The Bears (3-0) head to Sin City after sweeping their first three games at home, most recently a 95-62 win over Northern Colorado on Monday. The victory earned Baylor coach Scott Drew his 400th win at the Bears’ helm.
“When they say 400, that’s a team award, a team honor,” Drew said. “I really wasn’t thinking about 400 wins (when I got here in 2003). We were just trying to get a full team of scholarship guys and compete.”
LJ Cryer poured in a game-high 20 points for Baylor in the win, with Jalen Bridges adding 15 and Adam Flagler, the reigning Big 12 Conference player of the week, recording his second-career double-double with 13 points and 10 assists. Flagler has now scored in double figures 25 times in his last 27 games.
Freshman Keyonte George and Dale Bonner had 12 point each for the Bears in the victory and Caleb Lohner took 10 rebounds.
The Bears played like they are ready to take a step up in competition. They get that with Virginia and again — regardless of their matchup — Sunday.
“Another opportunity to win on a big stage, and we’re just ready for it,” Flagler said. “We’re definitely ready for it. We’re excited to go to Las Vegas.”
Baylor won the national title in 2021, two years after Virginia cut down the nets in Minneapolis.
The Cavaliers (2-0) travel to Vegas after their scheduled game at home on Monday against Northern Iowa was canceled. The Charlottesville, Va., campus has been mourning since Sunday when three Virginia football players were murdered returning from a class trip.
Drew said he was in touch with Virginia’s administration and coaching staff and Baylor players penned notes to each player on the Virginia roster.
“Obviously their minds are going to be on something different and they got a lot of people praying for them,” Drew said.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett is 13 wins away from No. 400 as the Cavaliers land in Vegas and has the asset of experience on his roster.
Virginia’s most recent outing was an 89-42 win at home over Monmouth on Nov. 11. Isaac McKneely led the way with 15 points in the victory, with Ryan Dunn adding 13 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks in his collegiate debut.
The Cavaliers held Monmouth scoreless for the last 4:33 of the first half and then put away the game when they started the second half with a 19-4 run. Virginia canned 13 of its 25 3-point attempts and outrebounded Monmouth 35-21.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the win over Monmouth that the goal was to keep improving.
“Just keep getting better,” Bennett said. “The competition will keep stepping up, so being ready to go. I think we’re deeper this year and we’ve shown that we shoot it better. Does that guarantee you’re going to be banging shots and [have a high] shooting percentage? No, but it opens the floor and the threats there.”
Virginia returns all five starters from last season’s team, which finished 21-14 and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals. The Cavaliers also return 91.4 percent of their scoring from last season, most among all NCAA Division I teams.
–Field Level Media