By Matt Tait.
The Kansas University men's basketball team's stout defense frustrated visiting Baylor from start to finish during Monday's 61-44 Big Monday victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks limited the Bears to just 23 percent shooting for the game — including 21 percent in the first half — and raced out to an early double-digit lead behind strong play in the paint at both ends.
Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, Jamari Traylor and Perry Ellis protected the middle on defense, and the Jayhawks pushed the pace and got up and down the floor at every possible opportunity, particularly in the first half, where the Jayhawks (15-1 overall, 3-0 Big 12) took a 33-20 lead to the locker room.
Kansas hit Baylor (11-5, 3-1) with a 10-5 run to open the second half and the Bears never cut the KU lead below 13 (49-36 at 9:58) from that point on.
Several Jayhawks contributed to Monday's victory. Ben McLemore led KU with 17 points and eight rebounds but also left the game late with an apparent ankle injury that kept him down, writhing in pain, for a couple of minutes. When McLemore got to his feet, he went straight to the locker room.
Elijah Johnson chipped in 12, Releford 10 and Young had four points and seven rebounds. Withey added eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.
One of the most pleasant surprises for the home team had to be the fact that Perry Ellis looked a lot more confident and showed flashes of what he's capable of while recording six points and six rebounds in 20 minutes.
Here's a quick look back at some of the action.
The game turned when: The Jayhawks turned a 12-9 lead into a double-digit lead with a 10-0 run midway through the first half. McLemore buried a three, Naadir Tharpe recorded a rare tip-in off of a McLemore miss in transition, McLemore followed that with an NBA-esque and-one, three-point play and Perry Ellis drove from the top of the key down the lane to push the KU lead to 22-9.
Offensive highlight: With KU's lead down to 23-18 and the Bears on a 9-1 run, senior forward Kevin Young out-fought Baylor towers Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers for a loose ball and a quick layup that ended KU's field goal drought of more than five minutes and pushed the lead back to seven. Two trips later, the Jayhawks led by 11 again and the Bears were back on their heels. Runner-up (or maybe even the winner): Elijah Johnson's off-balance left-handed floater and the ensuing free throw that put KU up 56-38 with 5:40 to play.
Defensive highlight: How about KU limiting Baylor sharp-shooter (and former Jayhawk killer) Brady Heslip to zero points on just three shots, one from three-point range. It's the second time the bomber has disappeared against KU but the first since he lit them up for 12 back-breaking points in the semifinals of last year's Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
Key stat: Blocked shots. Despite KU continually turning the Bears away inside — KU blocked 10 of 28 Baylor shots in the first half and 13 for the game — the Bears kept trying their luck down low throughout the game.
Up next: The Jayhawks will return to the road Saturday, Jan. 19, when they travel to Austin, Texas to take on the Longhorns at 1 p.m.