Kansas City, Mo. It might have been sloppy for a while, but the minute the Kansas University men’s basketball team flipped the switch, it turned into a highlight show at Sprint Center.
Friday evening in the Big 12 semifinals, top-seeded KU knocked off No. 5 Baylor, 70-66, to advance to the title game Saturday night.
The victory almost certainly locked up the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Dance for Kansas and put the Jayhawks (29-4) in position to deliver on what KU coach Bill Self talked about earlier this week — if you’re going to get to the title game, you might as well win it, Self said.
The way Kansas is playing right now, the Jayhawks certainly will be favored to do that no matter who they face.
View a gallery of images from the Jayhawks' semifinal game against Baylor on Friday at Sprint Center.
After a fast start that featured a few lobs involving Devonté Graham on both ends, the Jayhawks hit a wall and started playing sloppy basketball.
Kansas still led most of the first half, but began playing more like Baylor for the final 13 minutes of the first half and the two teams actually flipped roles midway through the half, with KU dipping below 40 percent shooting and Baylor finishing the half at 41.7 percent.
The Bears actually took a lead into the locker room when Jake Lindsey’s three-pointer at the buzzer banked in to give BU a 23-21 halftime lead.
KU had a chance at the final possession of the half but threw an errant lob pass that led to the Baylor run-out.
Kansas emerged from the locker room determined to take control immediately in the second half and, thanks to a possessed Perry Ellis, did just that, building a 10-point lead by the 11:30 mark of the second half.
Ellis, who led KU with 20 points, ripped off an 8-0 run by himself, going 2-for-2 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line during the run after a 3-for-8 shooting clip and zero trips to the FT line during the first half.
That gave KU control of the game again and provided the Jayhawks with enough of a cushion to cruise to the victory. Of course, rather than just resting on the seven-point lead, KU looked blood-thirsty and went looking for more. The Jayhawks led by as many as 14 points at the 9:31mark of the second half and never looked back from there.
Well, almost. With his second unit struggling to close out the game, KU coach Bill Self actually sent four of his starters back into the game for the final 25 seconds, which saw BU cut the KU lead to as few as 3 points.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Wayne Selden Jr. tried to eliminate Ish Wainright from the face of the Earth with a climb-the-ladder, and-one slam in Wainright’s face. Not only did the dunk send the KU fans at Sprint Center into a frenzy it also fired up the entire KU team and pushed the Jayhawks’ lead to 46-33 with 10:52 to play.
• Offensive highlight: Early on, KU showed it was ready and willing to attack that Baylor zone, as Selden drove down the right side of the lane late in the shot clock and hammered a dunk with his right hand to tie the game at 5. A few minutes later, Graham knifed his way into the teeth of the BU zone and tossed a soft lob to Ellis, who slammed it home. On the very next KU possession, Graham elected to throw over the top of the Baylor zone, connecting with Ellis on a second straight alley-oop. Eight minutes later, Graham jumped on the other end of the alley-oop fun, catching a high floater from Selden in transition and skying to finish the play. That put Kansas up 18-13 and forced the Bears to call timeout.
• Defensive highlight: With KU protecting a two-point lead and Baylor on a mini-run, Ellis rejected a shot in the lane by Al Freeman to keep Kansas in front. On the KU possession that followed, Graham knocked down an open three to push the Kansas lead back to five with 14 minutes to play. Ellis does not always come across as a shot blocker, but he picks good times to come through and is so smart in the way he goes about it.
• Key stat: KU controlled the glass and limited the long, athletic, energetic Bears to just nine offensive boards, while getting 10 itself. As usual, Landen Lucas led the way with 7 rebounds and was the chief of KU’s defensive rebound police squad. Carlton Bragg Jr., (7 rebounds in 10 minutes) and Jamari Traylor (6) also did good work on the glass.
• Up next: The Jayhawks advance to Saturday’s championship game, where they will meet West Virginia for the third time this season. The Mountaineers knocked off third-seeded Oklahoma after a wild finish in Friday's other semifinal. Tip-off for the title game is set for 5 p.m. Saturday.
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