Apologies for the one-day delay on “The Day After,” folks. Yesterday's national signing day football festivities kept me occupied from sun-up to sun-down.
If you missed any of that, check out our signing day blog that ran for nearly 12 hours and this signing day wrap-up story that explains how the Jayhawks enjoyed a smooth day and came away feeling pretty good about the 2014 class.
Now, back to the basketball...
A few days before it arrive, the Kansas vs. Baylor game in Waco, Texas, looked like just another game on the schedule.
But then the Jayhawks lost at Texas, Baylor won at Oklahoma State and that set up an all-of-a-sudden huge game for both teams. Clearly, Kansas was up for the challenge, as the Jayhawks played great defense, dominated the glass and came away with a 69-52 victory.
Despite a third consecutive quiet half from Andrew Wiggins and an all-around off game from Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks dominated the Bears after a slow start thanks largely to the inspired play of point guard Naadir Tharpe and reserve big men Tarik Black (6 points, 9 rebounds in 23 minutes) and Jamari Traylor (4 points, 3 rebounds in 10 minutes). Both were critical to KU controlling the rebounding situation and both helped offset the slow night from Embiid. Unlike last Saturday at Texas, when no one stepped up to pick up the slack when KU's starters struggled, the Jayhawks got a much more inspired effort from a lot of guys in this one and came away with a key road victory while maintaining control of the conference race.
1 – Wayne Selden's defense on Baylor sharp-shooter Brady Heslip. After watching Heslip drill three three-pointers while being guarded by Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason in the game's early minutes, Selden switched on to Heslip and shut him down the rest of the way. After starting 3-of-4 from three-point range and hitting four three-pointers in the first half, Heslip finished just 4-of-10 from downtown for the game and 4-of-14 from the floor overall for 12 points, zero in the second half. Those numbers came in 35 minutes, so, thanks to Selden's defense, the Bears' essentially played 4 on 5, offensively, during the final 30 minutes of the game.
2 – Baylor's zone gave KU some trouble early on but the Jayhawks snapped out of it and started doing a much better job of attacking the zone to build their eight-point halftime lead. Naadir Tharpe led the charge by getting into the teeth of the zone but Perry Ellis, Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor and even KU's wings did a nice job of finding room at the high post, attacking through the lane and getting easy buckets or put-back opportunities for offensive rebounders.
3 – By now, everyone knows Naadir Tharpe had another big game, but I think one of the most impressive parts of Tharpe's game was the fact that he didn't force anything despite feeling really good about his night. Here's what I mean. Tharpe, who finished with 22 points (one off of a career-high) reached the 20-point mark with 10 minutes still to play. It looked as if he would shatter his career high at that point, but he did not force shots or worry at all about his offense down the stretch. His goal was to steer the Jayhawks to an easy victory by making the smart plays and getting others involved. As Bill Self has said before, Tharpe has become a heck of a closer. Perry Ellis also deserves props for a strong start and for finishing at the rim, which built his confidence and helped the Jayhawks weather the slow start.
1 – It's hard to know exactly what the issue was but Joel Embiid definitely had one of his worst games as a Jayhawk. It wasn't just his stats — 1-for-6 shooting, 5 points, 4 fouls, 3 turnovers in 17 minutes — that made this one look bad. Embiid just looked out of sync on both ends and seemed frustrated throughout. Is the knee still bothering him a little? Was the pregame NBA talk in his head?
2 – Although the Jayhawks finished with a flurry and cruised to victory, they made things a little tighter than they needed to. After building a 40-29 lead early in the second half, the Jayhawks allowed the Bears to climb back and cut the lead to just a few points instead of delivering the knockout blow. Doing such is easier said than done, especially on the road, but KU let a golden opportunity to bury the Bears early slip away.
3 – For the most part, this was a pretty solid bounce-back game for the Jayhawks, so let's make the third reason to sigh because of a sigh of relief. This group, even the guys who weren't here last year, was very focused on making sure that one loss didn't turn into two the way it did during a three-game losing streak last year, and they went out and took care of business against a team and in an environment that could have been much more difficult.
The Jayhawks' road win at Baylor:
· Improved KU to 17-5 on the season
· Made Kansas 8-1 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2010-11 season
· Bumped up KU’s all-time series lead over Baylor to 21-4, including 9-2 at the Ferrell Center
· Made Bill Self 13-4 all-time against BU (13-3 while at KU), 317-64 while at Kansas and 524-169 overall
· Made KU 2,118-817 all-time
The Jayhawks return home Saturday to take on West Virginia at 3 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks and Mountaineers have not faced each other yet this season.