This couldn’t have been the plan Bill Self and Kansas had drawn up to win their ninth straight conference championship. With Kansas State losing earlier on Saturday, Kansas was assured of at least a tie atop the Big 12 Conference heading into Waco to face Baylor.
And they got whipped.
Kansas opened the game with a Ben McLemore layup off the opening tip, which ended up being their only lead of the game. As a team, Kansas didn’t shoot well and had difficulty getting the ball inside to Jeff Withey as well as driving into the lane. That left them settling for jumpers or getting rejected when they went in on Baylor’s big men. Jefferson had three blocks and Isaiah Austin had four while Kansas shot 37.5%.
The Jayhawks also gave up the ball and Baylor ended up out on breaks as a result. Multiple times, they’d lose the ball on an exchange at the top of the key and the turnover would lead to points.
Throughout the course of the game, Baylor would keep adding to their lead, fending off any Kansas resurgence with a key baskets. Jackson was incredible, slicing through the defense, making floaters and finding open teammates when KU tried to stop him. Jefferson was tough as well and hit three three-pointers, the first three of his career. Combined, the two Bears made 22-of-26 shots and 5-of-6 from outside.
Baylor shot 57.7% from the field.
Kansas’s previous four losses had been relatively close, but Saturday night, Baylor played as well as any team has played in beating Kansas in the Bill Self era. It’s the second-worst loss Kansas has suffered with Self at the helm, with Texas’s 25 point win back in February 2006. From 9:19 to 6:27 in the second half, Kansas made an 11-0 run to get to within six points, but they were also in foul trouble and had expended energy making the comeback and just didn’t have enough to get over the hump. Baylor got six points back in 78 seconds after calling a timeout at the end of Kansas’s run.
A loss is a loss, but there are positives to take out of this game. Ben McLemore scored 23 points in a tough road environment. He’s struggled on the road during conference play but he was the best offensive player on the floor for Kansas. Perry Ellis played 22 minutes and scored 12 points. More importantly, he looked comfortable and confident in doing so. As a freshman, he’s had a rough year, but he showed what he could do for this team on Saturday night. He made interior moves to get to layups and hit jumpers and filled a scoring void left by the rest of the team.
Nonetheless, Kansas wins a share of the Big 12 Conference Championship, their ninth in a row. With two wins over co-champ Kansas State, they take the first seed in the Big 12 Tournament which starts on Wednesday. They’ll face the winner of West Virginia and Texas Tech, who play at 7 p.m. CST on Wednesday. Kansas’s first game is scheduled for 3 p.m. CST on Thursday.