Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 81-72 loss to Baylor on March 9, 2012.
KU players Tyshawn Taylor and Jeff Withey talk to reporters following the Jayhawks' 81-72 loss to Baylor on March 9, 2012.
Baylor coach Scott Drew and players Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Pierre Jackson talk to reporters following the Bears' 81-72 victory over Kansas on March 9, 2012.
Nothing about the way the teams looked sharing the Sprint Center court made it seem as if the guys who lost were the ones who won the conference and the guys who won were seeded fourth after finishing four games out of first place during an 18-game schedule.
Baylor, with a deeper bench and superior deep shooters, took it to Kansas, 81-72, in front of a pro-KU crowd Friday night in Sprint Center to advance to today’s title game against Missouri.
The question after Friday’s Baylor game became not, “How did that happen?” rather, “How did Kansas finish four games ahead of Baylor playing the same schedule?” And: “How did the Bears lose twice to KU by a combined margin of 32 points?”
And that’s how it will go for Kansas in March if it shows up in a big building and brings with it an approach that screams, “We’ll do what we do. You do what you do. We’ll count ’em up at the end and see who’s better.”
Several teams in the country bring more talented players onto the practice floor on a daily basis than Kansas. Not many compete as consistently hard as the Jayhawks. Take away that advantage, and KU’s not one of the first teams that comes to mind when talking about threats to win the national championship.
“If we can’t make other teams play bad, then we’re not going to advance very far in the NCAA Tournament,” ninth-year Kansas coach Bill Self said after his team came up flatter than Jack “Smack” Harry’s buzz cut. “And we certainly didn’t make Baylor play poorly at all.”
Not this time. In Lawrence and Waco, Kansas kept big man Perry Jones III from getting near the hoop and barely allowed shooter Brady Heslip to catch the ball, much less shoot it. In those blowouts, Kansas played to the scouting report prepared by coaches, intimidated Baylor with physical play and kept the Bears in retreat mode.
Baylor coach Scott Drew, primarily a zone man since using a 2-3 defense out of the blue in knocking Kansas out of the Big 12 tournament three years ago, had a surprise in store again for Kansas and used a man-to-man defense for the entire game.
That didn’t explain why Kansas left its identity in the locker room for this one. It didn’t explain why Kansas defenders didn’t make it difficult for the Bears to get good shots.
“The thing that was most disappointing to me, I thought we played a style that is just good enough to get your butt beat,” Self said. “Average energy. Let them pass it wherever they want to. Never dictate a tempo defensively. Crappy traps on the post. Couldn’t remember scouting report.”
The scouting report on Heslip is not a complicated one. He’s not as quick as most Big 12 guards, not as strong, not as versatile. He’s a long-range shooter. Deny him from catching the ball, and don’t leave him alone to help elsewhere.
In the first two KU-Baylor games, Elijah Johnson was on him much of the time. In two games, Heslip was able to get off four three-pointers and made one. On Friday, he made four of six with Travis Releford on him most of the time. Kansas had battled back from a 14-point deficit to take a two-point lead when Heslip’s three-pointer with 9:07 put Baylor up, 59-58.
The Bears never trailed again, and it was two more daggers from Heslip, with 2:06 and 1:18, that cut the deepest. After one of them, on which Releford left him to help out, team leader Tyshawn Taylor, who didn’t have any trouble remembering the scouting report, gave Releford an earful.
“The whole deal on Heslip is the most we’re ever going to leave him is to bluff at the ball and get back to him,” Self said. “We made two critical mistakes. Critical. But you can’t just put it on Travis, because maybe if we got through the back screen — I’ve got to watch the tape — maybe if we got through the back screen quicker on the back-screen/fade-screen play they ran, maybe we could have released and got to the shooter quicker. I don’t know. I’ll have to watch the tape. But that definitely went against the scouting report.”
What did Baylor do to get him so open?
“I guess ran back screens and had us help a little bit and that gave him space,” Releford said. “We gave him space we shouldn’t have given him.”
Self has made a nice living on getting quick players to play rugged defense. He knows there is no secret to what makes this team click and what makes it vulnerable.
“We gotta guard,” Self said. “We don’t guard. Let’s just call it like it is. We don’t guard. This has to be a team that makes other people play poorly.”