The Kansas Jayhawks (14-4, 5-0) held off the Baylor Bears (13-5, 1-4), a team that could not afford to lose, earning a hard-fought 10-point victory Monday night in Allen Fieldhouse. The win puts the Jayhawks at 5-0 in Big 12 play, at least two games ahead of every other school but Kansas State.
Last week, Kansas won a game when they didn’t play particularly well, but their opponent, Iowa State, was ice-cold from 3-point range. Against Baylor, the Jayhawks played well on a night the Bears were red hot from behind the arc. The Bears hit on 48.1 of their 27 three-point attempts, including going 8-10 in the first half.
Conversely, Baylor made 13 three-point shots, and just 10 from inside the arc. Baylor actually out rebounded the Jayhawks 31-29, and had more assists than Kansas 15-12. The Bears played pretty well Monday.
Yet, Kansas won the ball game by 10 points.
The Jayhawks played pretty well themselves all night. It took them a few minutes to get acclimated to Baylor’s long, active 1-3-1- zone defense, but eventually Kansas figured it out to the extent they could move the ball around patiently until they got a good shot.
Even against the Bear’s athletic zone, the Jayhawks shot extremely well, hitting 57.5% of all their field goals. They connected on 26 of their 29 free throws as well, for 89.7%.
There were encouraging signs from the young Jayhawks that they are finally starting to play the style of basketball Bill Self so loves. The defense is improving, and they are hustling and playing tough ball. Even at the end of the game, with a ten-point lead and less than 30 seconds on the clock, three Jayhawks were diving to the floor, scrambling for a possession.
Wayne Selden, Jr. had maybe the play of the night when he went flying over the court side table and into the crowd, saving a loose ball that turned into 2 points for the home team. Bill Self emphatically led the cheers himself.
Replays showed that Selden was clearly out-of-bounds but that didn’t diminish his effort one iota. It was a tremendous play, and a great display of hustle and heart. It was Bill Self Kansas basketball!
Perry Ellis led the team in scoring with 18, and Andrew Wiggins scored 17, despite only hitting 3 shots from the field. He went 10-12 from the line to get his points; his aggressiveness was another encouraging sign. Joel Embiid added 12 points.
Wiggins topped the team in rebounds with 7, and Frank Mason tallied 6 assists with just one turnover off the bench.
Naadir Tharpe seemed to be bothered by the zone defense more than most of the Jayhawks. He was in foul trouble in the first half, but still logged 29 minutes. He only scored 6 points, dished out just 1 assist, but committed no turnovers.
Again, Kansas had too many turnovers with 16, the same numbers as they forced on defense. This number is still too high, and will come back to haunt them some game when they can’t hit nearly 58% of their field goals.
Baylor’s leading scorer was Brady Heslip off the bench. Heslip is a senior but it feels like he has thrown down threes for a decade against Kansas. He netted 19 points, and nailed 6 of his 9 three-pointers, including his first 4 of the game. Baylor’s fine big men, Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin each scored 16 on the night for the Bears.
Baylor played with more fire, emotion, and physicality than they sometimes seem to, but Self had the Jayhawks ready. Kansas did not rise to take the bait early on when the Bears tried to coax the Kansas players into doing something they shouldn’t. The Jayhawks held their ground, and their composure, taking another important step forward in their maturity as basketball players.
Kansas becomes the first team since the 1996-1997 North Carolina Tar Heels to beat 4 straight ranked teams. A fifth team, Oklahoma, is now ranked, although they weren’t when Kansas played them. The game before that, Kansas lost to San Diego State at home. The Aztecs were ranked 22nd at the time, but are now slotted number 7 in the latest AP poll.
It has been an extremely tough stretch of games, and there are very few Jayhawk fans out there who honestly thought after the San Diego State game, that Kansas could start the Big 12 season 5-0 with games against Oklahoma, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, all in 12 days.
Up next for the Jayhawks are the TCU Horned Frogs, on the road Saturday night. Yes, TCU is 0-5 but everyone remembers what happened a year ago when Kansas visited the Frogs. Self will have the Jayhawks ready this time.