5-8 Bears to open Big 12 play Saturday

1/7/2004 - Baylor Bears

WACO, Texas -- Whenever Baylor's starting five are on the court, there are no scholarship players sitting on the bench with coach Scott Drew.

At practice, there are just enough players for 5-on-5 drills.

Drew knew it was going to be tough when he took over the troubled program, and it's about to get tougher when the Bears open Big 12 play at No. 18 Texas on Saturday.

"I don't know the last team to go through the Big 12 with five scholarship players, but I bet they weren't too successful," Drew said. "We don't need any more injuries, illnesses, sickness or
academic problems."

Drew replaced Dave Bliss, who resigned amid serious NCAA violations revealed following the death of player Patrick Dennehy and a murder charge against former teammate Carlton Dotson. A
school-imposed probation will keep Baylor out of the Big 12 tournament, and the NCAA could eventually impose harsher penalties.

Baylor's top three players took advantage of relaxed transfer rules and went to other schools before the fall semester began.

Already undermanned, Baylor lost three more starters in the past month. Senior co-captains R.T. Guinn and Terrance Thomas were ruled academically ineligible last week, and Ellis Kidd was dismissed from the team before Christmas for violating team policy. All averaged at least 31 minutes and 11 points a game.

The Bears (5-8) have lost six of their last eight games -- to teams like Texas-Pan American, BYU-Hawaii and North Texas -- and are the only Big 12 team with a losing record.

Now comes play in one of the nation's toughest conferences.

The first five Big 12 opponents have a combined 47-7 record, with Texas Tech (12-2) and No. 6 Oklahoma (10-0) coming to Waco before the end of the month.

Forget their preseason goal of 15 wins for a winning record. The reality for the Bears is trying to avoid a winless conference season; the only 0-16 Big 12 record was Baylor five years ago
before Bliss arrived.

One of Baylor's primary goals is just to stay close.

"There's no margin for error, otherwise you're looking at a huge margin," Drew said. "Our goal and desire is to keep it where it is competitive, and best-case scenario give ourselves a chance to win down the stretch. We definitely know what we're against."

In two games since Thomas -- the team's top scorer and rebounder -- and Guinn were ruled ineligible, Matt Sayman, Harvey Thomas and Corey Herring have played at least 70 minutes each. Those are Herring's only two starts.

"We have to worry about not wearing them down, we've got to worry about foul trouble ... we've got all kind of worries now," Drew said.

Drew's first substitution move in both games was when he put all five non-scholarship players in at the same time, giving the starters a short rest. One of the non-scholarship players is Robbie McKenzie, added to the team after an open campus tryout in October and a player in every game so far.

"Everyone just has the mind-set to come out and play as hard as we can," Herring said. "We've got fighters on the team."

Against No. 24 Purdue on Saturday, the Bears cut a 22-point deficit to seven in the final minute of a 76-65 loss.

"We can't control how much more talent other teams have or what shots they have," said Sayman, along with Herring the only remaining players who started games before this season. "We can
only control how hard we play and execute. We have some young guys getting experience, and they will only be stronger and learning every day while thrown into the fire."