A lackluster first half put the Kansas basketball team in a troublesome spot Saturday afternoon at Baylor, so much so that a second-half surge couldn’t save the Jayhawks in an 80-64 road loss.
The Bears ended an 11-game losing streak versus KU by shooting 57 percent from the floor and turning the Jayhawks’ offense into a shell of itself most of the first half.
The defeat moved KU (19-6 overall, 8-4 Big 12) to a game behind Texas Tech in the loss column, hours ahead of the Red Raiders’ Saturday night matchup at Kansas State.
KU headed into the locker room at halftime, in Waco, Texas, having played its least productive half of the season.
The Jayhawks scored just once in the final six and a half minutes of the first half. After KU took an 18-17 lead on a Devonte’ Graham jumper, an already staggering offense completely crashed.
View a gallery of images from Saturday's game between the Jayhawks and Bears in Waco, Texas.
Other than another Graham (23 points) jumper at the 3:31 mark, the Jayhawks came away with empty possession after empty possession.
Svi Mykhailiuk, playing with a black eye suffered during pre-game warmups, missed a pair of 3-pointers and turned the ball over during the brutal stretch, which also included a pair of Malik Newman misses in the final minute, and a miss apiece by Graham and Lagerald Vick, as KU went 1-for-7 in the minutes leading into intermission.
Baylor, in the meantime, rode Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. (19 points), who scored seven of his 11 first-half points in the same span, and scored on six of its final eight possessions to take a 30-20 lead into the second half.
The Jayhawks shot 7 for 26 from the floor (26.9 percent) from the floor and only made 2 of 13 3-pointers (15.4 percent) in the first half, with the offense lacking rhythm.
The chances of a second-half recovery took a significant blow when 7-foot sophomore Udoka Azubuike picked up his third and fourth fouls just more than two minutes in.
Kansas trimmed BU’s lead to as low as two points in the second half, but the final minutes of the first proved critical for the Bears’ chances.
Malik Newman (14 points) helped KU rediscover its offensive mojo for a bit down the stretch.
The sophomore guard got rolling just in time, with teammate Azubuike spending a huge chunk of the second half on the bench with foul trouble.
Not only did Newman knock down an early 3-pointer after the break, he began attacking to set up teammates, too, dishing for five second-half assists.
The Jayhawks really began believing the game was salvageable when Newman scored six straight points. His free throws trimmed the deficit to five points for the first time in the second half, with 13:09 left. And a downhill drive for a layup seemed to invigorate the offense even more.
Azubuike checked back into the game with 4 fouls with more than 11 minutes to play, and quickly impacted KU’s brief resurgence, as well, with a pair of powerful dunks in less than one minute.
But Kansas couldn’t keep up after rallying, and BU out-scored the 10th-ranked Jayhawks, 50-40, in the second half.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Manu Lecomte (18 points) caught fire late in the second half.
The Jayhawks had cut what was once a 13-point, second-half lead down to two when LeComte began firing daggers.
The standout BU guard had been scoreless in the second half before a jumper ignited him with 6:50 to play.
Each of the next two trips down the floor, LeComte came through from deeper out, burying back-to-back 3-pointers that pushed Baylor’s lead back up to 10 just like that.
• Offensive highlight: In a first half almost completely devoid of timing and execution for KU’s offense, one sequence looked flawless.
Against Baylor’s 2-3 zone, Mykhailiuk skipped a pass from the left wing over to Graham on the right.
The senior point guard instantly moved the ball to Vick in the high post. As the junior pivoted to survey the court, he spotted Tristan Clark stepping up in the paint in his direction.
Without hesitation, Vick lofted a pass toward the rim, enabling Mitch Lightfoot to explode from the left block for an uncontested, two-handed alley-oop.
It was one of just two successful shots at the rim in the first half for Kansas.
• Defensive highlight: With KU’s offense sluggish in the first half, the visitors really needed a boost on defense.
Sophomore big Lightfoot came through with one as a help defender when the Jayhawks’ defense broke down on the perimeter. Terry Maston attacked off the dribble and took off for the hoop for what looked to be an easy two points.
Instead, Lightfoot quickly slid over from the weak side and exploded upward to smack the shot off the backboard with emphasis.
With KU missing 11 of its first 13 shots from the floor every defensive stop was a must.
• Key stat: Three-point shooting. The long-range jumpers failed KU on this afternoon. Kansas made just 6 of 31 from long range, destroying its chances.
Baylor, on just 15 attempts, knocked down eight 3-pointers.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will be on the road again, this time at Iowa State. The Cyclones already have defeated West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma at Hilton Coliseum this season. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, on ESPN2.