For a lot of reasons, the pressure is off for 18th-ranked Texas Tech and No. 3 Baylor when they collide Sunday afternoon in Waco, Texas.
Just don't expect any of those reasons to tempt either team to let up in their second showdown this season and their last game prior to tournament play.
The Red Raiders improved their lot in the upcoming Big 12 tournament by winning their third game in a row on Thursday, topping Iowa State 81-54. That leaves Texas Tech (17-8, 9-7 Big 12) in sixth place - which allows the Red Raiders to avoid a game on the first day of the league tournament and the potential of four games in four days.
Baylor will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament, which was locked in when the Bears (20-1, 12-1 Big 12) beat West Virginia earlier in a hectic week to nab the program's first-ever Big 12 regular-season crown and first league championship of any kind since 1950. Baylor built on that momentum by knocking off 17th-ranked Oklahoma State 81-70 on Thursday.
Texas Tech is building a head of steam down the stretch run with a combined effort, which was the case against the beleaguered Cyclones.
Four starters and sixth man Terrence Shannon scored in double digits, led by Mac McClung's 20 points -- his 10th game this season with 20 or more, but first in six games. His performance came on the heels of a season-low four points in a romp past TCU.
"I wasn't disappointed at all in Mac last game," Red Raiders' coach Chris Beard said. "He had six assists, he played the game the right way. At this level, this isn't a game where you can just go out there and say 'I'm going to score 15 tonight.' You take what the defense gives you.
"What I'm interested in is winning, and I thought last game Mac had enough assists to help us win."
The Bears seem to have rediscovered their way after absorbing the first loss at Kansas last Saturday.
Much like McClung, Baylor standout Jared Butler is back on track and was a major force Thursday with 22 points, five assists and three steals to help the Bears keep Oklahoma State at bay. He knocked down 4-of-7 from 3-point range as Baylor connected on 9-of-22 as a team. The Bears shot 57.1 percent (12 of 21) after halftime to remain comfortably ahead after building a 42-31 cushion in the initial 20 minutes.
Shooting that well was a must because the Cowboys hit a blistering 61.5 percent (16 of 26) from the floor in the second half, keyed by freshman Cade Cunningham.
"I thought whenever we needed a run, we really moved the ball and got high-percentage shots," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Really, credit the guys for doing a great job getting stops and getting high-percentage shots when we needed it the most."
These factors helped the Bears take another step toward returning to the level they were playing at before a three-week COVID-19 stoppage that covered most of February.
Prior to that, Baylor topped Texas Tech 68-60 in Lubbock -- at that point the Bears' first game of the season that had not been decided by double digits.
McClung notched 24 points that day, while Butler produced only seven, although he hit a pair of late 3-pointers to help Baylor hold off a late Red Raiders rally.
--Field Level Media