The Day After: Another battle with the Bears
The Kansas University men's basketball team took an important step toward wrapping up Big 12 title No. 11 in a row on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, with a 74-64 victory over 16th-ranked Baylor.
The reason the victory was important — other than the fact that they're all important — is that Baylor played well enough and was tough enough to win Saturday's game, yet Kansas didn't let that happen.
The Bears did everything they could to take control of the game early and had Kansas on its heels. But the Jayhawks never panicked — credit Bill Self and his icy cool demeanor for a lot of that — and cut into the lead by halftime, stormed back into it to start the second half and finished with the kind of run you typically see Kansas start games with.
Credit Baylor for preventing that run from coming until the final few minutes, but credit Kansas for playing at such a high level and getting quality and clutch performances, big and small, from multiple players.
The second hard-earned victory of the season over Scott Drew and company improved the Jayhawks to 21-4 on the season and 10-2 in Big 12 play with six games to go.
Given that Oklahoma and West Virginia — both losers on Saturday — now each have five losses in conference play, it looks as if the only team that can catch KU is Iowa State, which sits at 8-4 in Big 12 play and still has to play at Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas State and home vs. Oklahoma.
So much has been made lately about KU's three-point shooting — do they do it too much, do they do it enough, should they do it more, can they keep it up at their current pace — but Saturday's game was won in a much more conventional manner. KU's offense displayed good ball movement, players big and small got touches in the paint and the Jayhawks made a more normal 6 of 18 (33 percent) from three-point range. Considering it came against a quality team that will fight you for 40 minutes, I'm guessing this only elevated KU's confidence as a whole. Now the Jayhawks have a fresh reminder that, even if they're not shooting a ridiculous percentage from three-point rang, they can knock off a good team and win in other ways. Now the next step is to do it on the road and no place will provide a better test than Morgantown, West Virginia on Monday night.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Kansas closed the game like champions. Not only did KU's defense step up and make life miserable for the Bears in the final few minutes, but the Jayhawks also made shots and refused to leave the door even slightly cracked for a possible BU comeback. KU hit 6 of its final 10 shots, while limiting Baylor to just 2 makes in its final 10.
2 – Wayne Selden did what leaders do to open the second half. After doing next to nothing to speak of during 18 minutes in the first half, Selden exploded out of the locker room with seven straight points to put the Jayhawks right back into the thick of the game and breathe some life into an uneasy Allen Fieldhouse crowd. Selden played with energy, aggression and in attack-mode during those first few minutes of the second half, when he scored 12 points and went to the free throw line nine times.
3 – Devonte Graham's line won't knock your socks off, but he made a couple of big plays when he was in there. The most obvious was his forced five-second call on Kenny Chery, who inexplicably kept pounding the ball despite being hounded by Graham near mid-court. Another came just moments before that when Graham alertly tried to dive in for the steal when Chery allowed his eyes to leave the ball while looking back to the Baylor bench for instructions. The officials ruled that Graham knocked the ball out of bounds, but KU coach Bill Self did not care. He went nuts, jumping up and down while elebrating Graham's hustle play. Those were two big plays during KU's fabulous finish, but the more important element was that they provided proof that Graham is not allowing his offensive struggles to affect his overall game. The freshman point guard has made just two shots and scored eight points in KU's last five games.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Bill Self said Cliff Alexander played fine in this one, but his second half was certainly not part of that equation. The big man who made his second consecutive start played just seven minutes in the second half and did not score while grabbing three rebounds, picking up one foul and coughing up one turnover. Self said Baylor's zone defense was tough on Alexander and that's why Landen Lucas, who was great, got the bulk of Alexander's minutes in the second half. The fact that Lucas remains ready is a huge luxury for this team. The fact that Alexander, now 25 games in, still has moments out there where he doesn't quite know what's going on, is a huge concern.
2 – Brannen Greene made just 1 of 5 three-pointers in 20 minutes. The only reason that his off shooting night falls in the category of “reasons to sigh” is because Greene has been so hot during Big 12 play that you legitimately think every shot he takes is going in. He rushed a couple in this game — can you blame him? — and probably just never found his rhythm. I wouldn't look into it any deeper than that.
3 – Just when you want to say that Frank Mason had an off night, you look down at the stat sheet and see that he had 8 assists, 4 rebounds and played 31 minutes. However, because he shot just 1-of-5 from the floor and finihshed with just five points, that qualifies as off for the KU sophomore who has had a fantastic and remarkably consistent season. Mason missed the only two three-pointers he tried and turned it over twice. He did hit 3 of 4 free throw attempts, though, so to call his night a reason to sigh is a bit of a stretch unless you are specifically talking about his scoring.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' come-from-behind victory over Baylor:
• Made Kansas 21-4 overall and gave Kansas 21 victories for the 26th-straight season.
• Pushed KU to 10-2 in league play, giving KU 10 or more conference victories for the 20th-consecutive season.
• Pushed KU's edge in the all-time series vs. Baylor to 23-4, including a 13-0 mark in games played in Lawrence.
• Marked KU's fourth-straight win against Baylor.
• Extended KU’s win streak inside Allen Fieldhouse to 21 games, the 11th-longest home winning streak in KU history.
• Improved the Jayhawks to 12-0 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 725-109 all-time in the venue and 187-9 under head coach Bill Self.
• Improved Self to 346-73 while at Kansas, 15-4 against Baylor (15-3 at Kansas) and 553-178 overall.
• Made KU 2,147-825 all-time.
The Jayhawks head to West Virginia for a Big Monday showdown with one of the best pressure defense teams in the country. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN.