Saturday, February 22, 2020
Waco, Texas — In the Ferrell Center hallway, shortly after third-ranked Kansas’ 64-61 victory over No. 1 Baylor, BU Athletic Director Mack Rhoades stopped Kansas coach Bill Self to deliver a quick message.
“That was a heck of a game, Coach,” said Rhoades to the still-smiling Self, who had just left his postgame session with the media.
Billed as exactly that throughout the week, the top-ranked Bears and perhaps-soon-to-be-No. 1 Jayhawks did not disappoint on Saturday, playing a hard-fought, intense game that went down to the wire and left both teams, along with many who watched, wondering if there might be more where that came from in the future.
“I was just telling somebody this,” Self told Rhoades. “Let’s go make it a best-of-three in Kansas City. That’d be fun.”
That, of course, would come at the Big 12 Tournament, March 11-14 at Sprint Center. And both teams have a lot of work still to do before they get to that point.
For starters, there are still four games remaining for both teams in the regular season. After that, each would have to win two games at Sprint Center before facing each other in the Big 12 Tournament title game.
Beyond the exchange between Self and Rhoades, a third, and even fourth, meeting was a popular topic in the postgame media sessions on Saturday.
Asked if he would like another crack at Kansas, Baylor sophomore Jared Butler, who has enjoyed some of the best games of his career against the Jayhawks, did not hesitate to sign up.
“A hundred percent,” Butler said. “Of course, as a competitor, I want to play them again. But Kansas doesn’t rule my life. The goal wasn’t to sweep Kansas, it was to win a Big 12 championship.”
Added KU center Udoka Azubuike of a potential third or even fourth matchup with the Bears down the road: “If we meet them in the Big 12 Tournament, it’s still going to be a great game and a great atmosphere, too. They’re a great team.”
Self agreed, and said both he and his players were ecstatic to exact revenge on the Bears on Saturday.
“We’ve been looking up at Baylor all year long,” Self said. “(Our guys are) so excited, and they deserve to be excited. That was a heck of a win.”
Moss flashes all-around game
While his two free throws gave Kansas some breathing room in the final seconds and his two 3-pointers helped KU keep control throughout the game, KU senior Isaiah Moss came through with more than just his offense on Saturday.
Forced to guard Butler for a lengthy stretch during Saturday’s second half because of foul trouble on KU junior Marcus Garrett, Moss held his own and continued to make things tough for Butler, who finished the day 7 of 18 from the floor.
“I thought Isaiah was solid,” Self said. “Playing out of foul trouble with Marcus, we caught a break there that, really, we didn’t take a step backwards when he was out of the game.”
Added KU sophomore Devon Dotson of Moss’ contribution to KU’s latest victory: “Very big. (He) came up with key defensive plays and hit some free throws down the stretch.”
Moss said he never expected to guard Butler as much as he did on Saturday. But he gave himself a passing grade for the job he did.
“This was a must-win for us,” Moss said after Saturday’s win. “(And I was) just trying to be aggressive, trying to move my feet. He’s a great player, as everybody knows, a great shooter. So I just tried to be aggressive.”
Living up to the hype
Several Jayhawks said Saturday’s top-three showdown lived up to the hype that preceded it throughout the week.
“For sure,” Dotson said. “The energy in the building was loud, the fans were in it and you could just feel the buzz. It was just an exciting time and a huge win.”
Moss, who spent most of his career playing in the Big Ten at Iowa, said he enjoyed his first and only trip to Waco.
“They’ve got a great fan base here,” he said. “I didn’t think it would be like this. It felt pretty big. But I like big games. I feel like I play better in more intense games, so I liked it.”
Seeing an emotionally charged up road crowd is nothing new for Self, of course. But he had no problem calling Saturday the best atmosphere Kansas had seen this season, with one small caveat.
“Until Saturday,” said Self, referencing next weekend’s trip to Manhattan to take on Kansas State. “And then until the following Saturday (at Texas Tech). We usually catch guys in pretty good environments, but this was as good or better than any environment we’ve played in this year. It was fun. It was fun to be a part of it.”
Faces in the crowd
A few of Baylor’s big guns and notable alums showed up for Saturday’s showdown with Kansas.
Former Baylor quarterback and 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was there. Chip and Joanna Gaines, of HGTV “Fixer Upper” fame, also were there with their family. And Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, who has her team ranked No. 2 in the nation, visited with ESPN’s Holly Rowe in front of the wild and ready Ferrell Center crowd.
Typically, the Baylor student section holds 1,700 fans. On Friday night, more than 650 of them were camping out at Baylor’s arena in anticipation of the game of the year and the early morning fun on ESPN’s College GameDay.
While that might be normal at Allen Fieldhouse, it’s more or less unheard of in Waco.
This and that...
Saturday’s victory gave KU 24 wins on the year, marking the 15th consecutive season that Kansas has won 24 games or more... The win made KU 13-1 or better in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2009-10 season and the third time in the Self era... KU is now 9-16 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, including a 4-2 mark under Self.... KU is now 9-1 in its last 10 road games against AP top 10 teams... The win pushed the Jayhawks to the 13-win threshold for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons... KU now leads the all-time series with Baylor 33-6, including a 14-3 mark in Waco... KU has won eight consecutive road games and is 8-1 in true road games this season, 12-2 in games played outside of Allen Fieldhouse.