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The Day After: A barn-burner at Baylor

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Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts up a floater against Baylor with time winding down during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene (14) puts up a floater against Baylor with time winding down during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Toughness can be defined in different ways and covers everything from physical strength to mental triumph.

During Wednesday's 56-55 road win at Baylor, I must have seen KU coach Bill Self scream down at his team at least half a dozen times — particularly during that intense second half — in a plea for his players to be tough.

Sure, Kansas was out-rebounded by eight — including 17-9 on the offensive glass — and, yeah, there were times when the bigger, badder Baylor bodies knocked KU players to the ground while going for loose balls or rebounds. Even still, the Jayhawks delivered.

Toughness is not letting the wheels fall off when you fall behind by six points in a game where a three-point lead felt large. Toughness is not feeling sorry for yourselves when the one guy who had been playing the best offensively fouled out. Toughness is making clutch free throws when they matter most.

The Jayhawks did all of those and more on Wednesday against a good Baylor team that had some notable advantages. And because of it, the Jayhawks jumped out to 1-0 in Big 12 play and will have a chance to make that 3-0 in the next six days.

Kansas players, from left, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor watch a pair of free throws from Kelly Oubre with head coach Bill Self after a flagrant foul by Baylor during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas players, from left, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor watch a pair of free throws from Kelly Oubre with head coach Bill Self after a flagrant foul by Baylor during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

Quick takeaway

For the fourth game in a row — and the ninth time in 14 games — sophomore point guard Frank Mason led Kansas in minutes. But unlike we've come to expect from Mason in recent weeks, not all of those minutes were stellar. Mason struggled offensively in the first half and really only had one stretch where he looked good on offense. But rather than that slightly off night from their leader spelling doom, other Jayhawks stepped up and made plays to pick up the slack. This team has talent and varying degrees of confidence. But Wednesday's effort may go down as one of the biggest they'll have all season because these guys now know they can win a tough game even when Mason does not play like a super hero.

Three reasons to smile

1 – KU's ball movement was pretty good throughout the game. A lot of times when teams struggle against a zone defense, it's because passes are scarce or guys try to play too much one-on-five basketball. That was not KU's problem against the Bears. Sure, BU's length and KU's own hesitation made things tough and limited the Jayhawks to just 18 first-half points, but it was not because the Jayhawks did not share the ball and keep it moving against the zone. That showed in the second half, when KU scored 38 points and started taking and making shots born from an attacking attitude.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) puts up a floater amidst the Baylor defense during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) puts up a floater amidst the Baylor defense during the second half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

2 – How about Jamari Traylor? I've been hard on the guy for most of the season, but he was sensational against Baylor. He played under control, he played with purpose and he carried the KU offense when the Jayhawks were in desperate need of someone to step up. Traylor's game still has holes, but it was good to see him find success while playing under control. That should really benefit him the rest of the season and, if he can replicate it, should make him a legitimate option in the KU offense.

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (35) bowls over Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) on a dunk during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The dunk was called back and Motley was whistled for an offensive foul on the play.

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (35) bowls over Kansas forward Jamari Traylor (31) on a dunk during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. The dunk was called back and Motley was whistled for an offensive foul on the play. by Nick Krug

3 – Forget the stats or the style points, several Jayhawks made winning plays in this game. And it's those kinds of plays that bring confidence and can draw a team together. Whether you're talking about Wayne Selden's seven straight points, all on tough shots, or Traylor taking a charge or Mason immediately answering a huge Baylor three with the only one he made all night, several different Jayhawks stepped up at just the right time to snag this victory. That's a good sign that guys are (a) becoming more understanding and accepting of their roles and (b) team chemistry is rock solid.

Three reasons to sigh

1 – The Jayhawks still have not figured out how to attack and/or score over length and a presence at the rim. No one is more guilty of this than Perry Ellis, who struggled all night and finished 2-of-8 from the floor with 4 points, 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers, but several Jayhawks saw their shot attempts in close swatted or altered, especially in that rough first half. I suspect this will be a season-long issue for Kansas, which will make three-point shooting perhaps more important than ever for the Jayhawks, both as a way to get some open looks and points and to open up things in the paint.

2 – It's time to start looking at KU's rotation and minutes. Self played nine guys in this one but Landen Lucas and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played just four and three minutes, respectively. That means KU basically won this game with a seven-man rotation. That's doable for a little while, but it's hard to imagine it holding up for 18 games in a conference as rough and tough as the Big 12, especially when foul trouble enters the equation. Freshman point guard Devonte' Graham should be back in the next game or two, and that will help tremendously. But it'll take some time for Graham to get back into the flow of things. Self's never going to be a guy who plays nine guys on a regular basis, but it would be a big boost if he had nine guys he could play on any given night. Graham's return will help, but so would improved play and confidence from Mykhailiuk.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene defends Baylor forward Taurean Prince (21) under the bucket during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.

Kansas guard Brannen Greene defends Baylor forward Taurean Prince (21) under the bucket during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2014 at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. by Nick Krug

3 – Baylor's attendance was a little hard to believe. I know the students are still on winter break and that probably contributed to some of it, but, still, you've got the 21st ranked team in the country playing host to a blueblood program ranked No. 12 and you can't even come close to filling the place? That makes no sense. Baylor listed the attendance at 7,088, but I'm guessing it wasn't even that high. Those who were there were loud and did their best to give the Bears a home-court advantage, but it's hard to believe there wasn't a better crowd. I know a lot of places don't do that well all year and then sellout when KU comes to town.

One for the road

The Jayhawks' wild, one-point win at Baylor...

• Made Kansas 12-2 or better for the second time in the past three seasons and the seventh time in Bill Self’s 12 seasons at KU.

• Marked the Jayhawks’ 24th-consecutive conference-opening victory, dating back to the 1991-92 season.

• Pushed KU’s advantage to 22-4 in the all-time series against the Bears, including 10-2 inside the Ferrell Center.

• Improved KU's season record to 5-2 in games away from Allen Fieldhouse and 2-1 in true road games.

• Made Self to 337-71 while at Kansas and 544-176 overall.

• Made KU 2,138-824 all-time.

Next up

The Jayhawks return to action at 2 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse, where Texas Tech will be the opponent for KU's Big 12 home opener.

By the Numbers: Kansas wins 56-55 at Baylor

By the Numbers: Kansas wins 56-55 at Baylor

Comments

Steve Grimm 6 years, 11 months ago

A couple of other comments: 1) Hustle: I have to admit that, while we are struggling with defining our offensive identity, I am growing more impressed with the level of hustle being displayed. Perhaps there is this one outcome from the Temple loss that we can be thankful for. They need to keep it going. It seems that this has become a binding element among team members. Cool. 2) Defense: Baylor is not a scoring slouch. We guarded the middle extremely well and made it generally difficult for them to score. We were moving through screens and generally being good with the weakside help. Which echoes HCBS statements: "to win, defense and rebounding must travel". Well, one out of two aint bad. For defense, anyway, we are a far cry better than we were last year. And if we continue to struggle with our offense, this is going to save our bacon most nights 3) Perry Ellis: I agree with what has been written and said about him. When you give him a bit of room to operate, he flourishes. But he is not a banger. He does not move well in tight spaces and he does not have that instinct to out-muscle anyone to get a rebound. He has never been that way. Going forward, Bill needs to build an alternative low post lineup when the opponent is highly physical. Cliff, for sure, should be in that rotation. Jamari sure gave a reason to consider. I still hold out some hope, however, for Landon Lucas to suddenly get a mean streak. He has that great physical presence. And while he may not be the scorer Perry is, I still hope he can be a better factor on the defensive end when things get physical.

To have these "glaring" issues (that is, concerns we are not used to having had before) and still be 12-2 with the 2nd hardest schedule in college basketball: folks, we surely can't complaign too loudly, can we? We have lots of reasons to be proud of these guys.

out.

Erich Hartmann 6 years, 11 months ago

Great post. I'd say Landen has a mean streak, as he wont be pushed around by anyone, not even Josh Smith of Georgetown who outweighs the 245lb Lucas by over 100lbs...The issue for Lucas is that he does not have quick feet, and is a defensive liability against a stretch 4. He does get some swats.

Put it another way: Landen Lucas is that type of 6'10 kid that Ellis could score on. (ie, not the type of "length" that bothers Ellis). Im not being critical of Lucas, in the sense that if he wasnt given quick feet by mother nature, nor by Andrea Hudy, than it isnt really his fault that he doesnt match up well with certain bigs. That's Self's job to figure out against whom, and when to play Landen.

Whatever gets KU the best chance to win, in any given game. Landen also knows that fact.

Doug Cramer 6 years, 11 months ago

This was a huge win...particularly since it was on the road against a ranked opponent.

Thought the offense was moving the ball better in the half court the second half.

Steve Grimm, I'm holding out hope that Hunter Mickelson steps it up. One way or the other, it will be nice to have one of those guys providing depth in the post. Especially if P-Doggie is going to play soft.

Steve Grimm 6 years, 11 months ago

I would be happy to see Hunter out there on the floor. Last time at AFH, he was awesome. He seems a bit slower to react, but that would be another good big body to have there banging around, I agree with you.

Clarence Haynes 6 years, 11 months ago

I love this team but not with a faint of heart! Traylor is the last link to that group of "gritty" players that KU had a few years back when he redshirted. Looks like some of that grit was carrying over to others last night! Hopefully we can continue to play the tough brand of ball that we are accustomed to witnessing.

Glen Grunz 6 years, 11 months ago

Hey did I miss something. I thought Kansas was the team that shot 74% in the second half and 47% for the game. Gee and here I read that Baylor dominated the stat tables. Well rebounding they sure dd there. But then again they had plenty of opportunities at offensive boards considering there "dominating" 33% shooting. Oh was that assist number a misprint and the turnovers were they not a wash. The free throws need work but 6 is not a reasonable sample. Of course we were terrified by there length so much so we dominated scoring in the paint. Here is to being terrified if that is the result. Traylor his game is plagued with question marks. So much so coach Self completely believes he is our most consistent player. Must be lower case question marks. OK, this team is young and and growing. There are areas to criticize but the bottom line is simply they are light years ahead of where they were just 3 weeks ago.

Zach Mitts 6 years, 11 months ago

KU won the assists battle with 19 to Baylor's 9. That does appear to be a misprint (I believe the numbers they accidentally listed were steals.) 19 assists is impressive for this KU team, certainly a product of the quality ball movement that Matt mentioned in his first point.

Micky Baker 6 years, 11 months ago

It's not that number that is impressive,but that we had had 19 assists while scoring just 56 points which showed we had great patience on offense and really stepped up the shooting in the second half. More than 80% of our scoring came off ball movement against a good defensive team. I think we only had 3 turnovers in the second half. The passes we had to make weren't easy because they were putting pressure on the ball no matter who had it unless it was at the top of the key and it was Traylor or Alexander with it up there.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 11 months ago

Temperature was in the mid 30's and wind chill in the low 20's before the game and upper 20's with a wind chill of about 10 when the game got over. The wind was also blowing a steady 30 mph out of the north last night. That's not a big deal in Kansas, but it is in central Texas and a big reason why there wasn't a bigger crowd. The mid week placement of this game kept a lot of the Houston and DFW alums from making the trip as well. This was also common when Kansas would visit Texas A&M in mid week games as well.

On the game itself, KU passed a lot of open 3's last night; Mason, Selden, and Oubre in particular. For a team that's been as good behind the arc as KU has been this year, that was very surprising to me. I was also disappointed in Perry not demanding to be the zone buster instead of Traylor. Perry has the range and handles to catch the ball at the free throw line and absolutely wreck havoc on a zone defense. Definitely not surprised by it because Perry isn't a player with the mentality to be a star.

Steve Zimmerman 6 years, 11 months ago

Matt, I enjoy reading your after-game blog. Can you put together some kind of analysis/breakdown on plays that lead to our win/loss? I expect a lot of short animated GIFs or clips. That would be great.

David Kemp 6 years, 11 months ago

Time for Perry to take the lead and maybe he can't. Show some emotion and fire up. If Perry can pull it together then I believe the last cog is for Alexander to grow into the roll of his projected NBA potential. In my mind these two guys are the key. Everybody else is doing their job. But still a win for the ages in true Self style.

Aaron Paisley 6 years, 11 months ago

Frank Mason needs to lead the team. He has the same win at all costs mentality that Sherron and Tyshawn had and that's the mentality that KU needs to make a deep run in March.

Bob Bailey 6 years, 11 months ago

Perry tried real hard to improve his mid-jumper after the KY game. He had some success, but his effort caused real trouble with his free throws. In addition, it may be that the coaching staff is directing Perry to the rim. He can't do that. If he were directed toward his mid-jumper shot, the team would be a lot better off. Maybe he should play the three and let others handle 1& 2!

Kristen Downing 6 years, 11 months ago

Matt, you're not hard on anybody, just honest.

Mike Riches 6 years, 11 months ago

I was at this game and there were a ton of empty seats. We've been attending Baylor games since moving to the Dallas area about 8 years ago. That was the emptiest I've seen the arena. It's also the earliest in the year we've played at Baylor and as Matt mentioned, I'm sure students still being on break had something to do with it. Maybe the weather was a factor as well. Of the 7,000 in attendance, I would guess that maybe 1500 were KU fans. That number used to be a lot higher as well. But Kansas used to play at Baylor every other year, which was a big draw for KU fans living in Texas. Now they play every year, and they also play at TCU every year. I assume that many of the fans in the DFW area (who only attend one game in a year) choose to attend the TCU game instead of driving to Waco.

I was surprised by the empty seats at the OU/UT game as well (which also featured two ranked teams and rivals nonetheless), but let's face it, there's no other place like KU in the Big 12. Most places have trouble filling the seats even when it's a good game, especially on a weeknight. We sell out (and actually fill the seats) for an exhibition game against Emporia State on a Tuesday night. What can I say but Rock Chalk!

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