KU no stranger to tight games dominating Big 12 play so far this season
Seven games into the Big 12 men’s basketball season, the Kansas Jayhawks, as usual, have established themselves as the team to beat in the conference race.
But there’s not a soul in crimson and blue who believes this thing is over or who is thinking that a record 14th-consecutive Big 12 title is in the bag.
Well, that was on full display for all to see during Saturday’s 70-67 KU victory over Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks survived in yet another down-to-the-wire thriller that has become the norm for the conference through the first 35 games of the 2017-18 Big 12 schedule.
In fact, so far there have been more than twice as many Big 12 games decided by 10 points or less (24) as games decided by 12 points or more (11).
That reality includes as many one-point games (5) as games won by 20 or more and a whopping 25 percent of games (9) decided by one possession.
“This is the Big 12. Nobody’s going away,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, both praising his team for coming back from an early deficit and lamenting their ability to close late. “They’re 40-minute games. That’s for any of us.”
After falling behind 16-3 and 20-7 in Saturday’s opening eight minutes, the Bears slowly and steadily kept coming. Even after falling behind by 13 again at the start of the second half, the Bears found their footing and eventually built a six-point lead in the final five minutes.
“I thought it was another typical Big 12 game,” Drew said. “It comes down to one possession and Kansas did a better job getting to the free throw line late in the game. To me, that was the difference.”
While KU’s clutch free throw shooting late helped the Jayhawks prevail, a big reason for the Bears’ comeback was the presence of one key factor that has been present in so many close games between Big 12 teams thus far — KU let up.
“I think we just got a little complacent, relaxed defensively and kind of got out of it for a little bit,” said KU senior Devonte’ Graham.
The offensive hero of KU’s win whole-heartedly agreed with his teammate and pointed to human nature as the reason for KU’s desire to tap the brakes.
“Coach told us, ‘Don’t relax, keep our foot on the gas because anybody’s capable of going on runs,'” recalled Newman, who scored 24 points, including 12 straight in the final four minutes. “But it’s very hard. Because if we didn’t take our foot off the gas the outcome could’ve been different in a positive way. When you look up at the board and it’s 25-7 or something like that, you kind of get comfortable and get loosey-goosey and that’s when things go wrong for you. It’s kind of like a reality check.”
Not that the Jayhawks needed it. Playing in these types of test-the-old-ticker games is not exactly something new for Self’s squads.
In the last three seasons, counting this year’s 3-0 mark, the Jayhawks are 9-1 in one-possession games. Take that back a couple more seasons and KU (16-3 overall, 6-1 Big 12) now has won 13 of its last 17 games decided by three points or fewer.
Next up, the Jayhawks head south to Norman, Oklahoma, on Tuesday, where they will face the Sooners and freshman sensation Trae Young.
Don’t be surprised if that one, like so many other KU and Big 12 games already, comes down to the final possession. The Sooners (14-4, 4-3) already have played in three one-possession games this season, with a 2-1 mark in those games.