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The Day After: Baylor
The feat the Kansas University basketball team just pulled off cannot be overlooked. Not only did the Jayhawks just rip off four consecutive victories against ranked teams for the first time in school history — and the first time for any program since North Carolina did it in 1997 — but they did so by rising to the occasion each time with incredible energy, confidence and poise at once.
The cherry on top of the four-game sweep came Monday night, as the Jayhawks — and the home fans — got right back up for one more big game and knocked off a scrappy Baylor squad, 78-68, at Allen Fieldhouse.
I'll be the first to admit that the game was tougher for the Jayhawks than I expected it would be, as Baylor controlled most of the first half and made KU work for everything it got. But then that signature Fieldhouse run came in the second half and the Jayhawks took control and hung on down the stretch.
Give Wayne Selden's highlight-reel save credit for really sparking the run.
Although the victories at Iowa State or home against Oklahoma State — both top 10 teams at the time — were more impressive, Monday's victory was solid given the fact that KU was forced to get up for yet another big game and did and the fact that the Bears came in a little bit desperate.
Kansas now controls the Big 12 race even more at 5-0 and, perhaps more importantly, gets a few days off before its next action Saturday at TCU.
The mere fact that KU's most recent opponent nailed 8 of 10 three pointers in the first half alone yet still somehow trailed No. 8 Kansas by two points at the break is one of the more remarkable things I can remember seeing. It was particularly impressive given the fact that KU did not play all that well in the first half on offense and really labored for everything it got. The Jayhawks' defense in the paint really stepped up in the first half to keep KU right there and a better defensive effort on the perimeter in the second half put the offense in position to deal that knockout blow.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Free throw shooting has long been a sore subject around these parts, as fans of KU basketball — and probably the coaches, too — expect high percentages every time out. For whatever reason, that doesn't always happen, but it did on Monday, as KU drained 26 of 29 free throws, which may very well have been the difference. Three Jayhawks (Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor) were perfect from the foul line and Perry Ellis missed one in the final minute. The only guy to miss more than one was Andrew Wiggins, who was given a pass because his two misses came in 12 trips. Free throw shooting is as much about confidence as anything and these guys really seem to feel as if they're getting free points when they toe the line.
2 – Given how red hot Naadir Tharpe has been of late, playing without him for large stretches of Monday's victory was critical for the Jayhawks' psyche. Forced to the bench with two fouls in the first half, Tharpe scored just six points and took three shots in 29 total minutes. He did play the entire second half and never picked up that third foul, but what a nice thing for the Jayhawks to see they could have a little success without their floor leader in the lineup.
3 – A big reason for that success was the play of freshman point guard Frank Mason, who once again asserted himself offensively and was a huge reason the Jayhawks were leading at halftime. Mason showed some of this early in the season but took a step back during the past couple of weeks. It looks as if that attacking mentality is once again at the front of his mind, another good sign for KU, given the fact that Mason is as good as it gets on this team at making something happen when the shot clock is winding down.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – There's no doubt in my mind that KU coach Bill Self emphasized over and over before this one what a talented outside shooter Baylor's Brady Heslip is. So when you see that Heslip got loose for 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting from three-point range, including 4-of-4 in the first half, it doesn't take a genius to realize that Self probably was not too happy about that. Four guys tried their luck on Heslip, with Selden and Wiggins having more luck than Tharpe and Mason. Still, all four struggled at times, whether it was going under screens instead of over or losing him altogether. Nothing alarming and and there aren't many better shooters out there than Heslip, but it's definitely a sigh moment given how much it was probably emphasized before the game.
2 – Baylor entered Monday having forced just 177 turnovers in 17 games, good for a little more than 10 per night. Yet in the first half alone Kansas turned it over nine times. The Jayhawks tightened it up a little in the second and finished with 16 for the game, but far too many of them were just careless mental lapses, magnified by the fact that they came against a team that really doesn't force turnovers that often.
3 – KU's size and length made things tough for the Bears initially inside, but the Jayhawks were outfought for some loose balls around the Baylor rim. The Bears ripped down 20 offensive rebounds and scored 15 second-chance points, most of them coming in the paint. Isaiah Austin is long, Rico Gathers is wide and the Bears' guards did a great job of attacking the offensive glass.
One thought for the road:
KU's hard-fought victory over Baylor on Monday night, which marked its fifth game in 12 days:
• Kept Kansas as the only undefeated team in Big 12 play at 5-0.
• Marked the Jayhawks’ fourth-straight win over a top-25 opponent (No. 25 Kansas State, No. 9 Iowa State, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 24 Baylor). The last school to win as many as four-consecutive regular season games, all against schools ranked in the AP top 25 was when North Carolina did so in February/March 1997. The Tar Heels beat No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 14 Maryland, No. 12 Clemson, and No. 7 Duke in four-consecutive games. Since then, there have been 58 schools to play at least four-consecutive regular-season games against AP-ranked opponents with none of them winning all four games.
• Pushed KU’s record on Big Monday to 50-16 overall, 27-1 in Allen Fieldhouse and was the 21st-straight Big Monday win at home.
• Made KU 5-0 in conference play for the third-straight season and the seventh time in the Bill Self era.
• Made the Kansas-Baylor series 20-4 in favor of KU, including 18-4 in the Big 12 era and 11-0 in Allen Fieldhouse.
• Made KU 707-109 all-time in Allen Fieldhouse, including 169-9 in the Bill Self era and 8-1 this season.
• Made Bill Self 12-4 all-time against Baylor, 314-63 while at Kansas and 521-168 overall
• Made KU 2,115-816 all-time.
After a wild stretch against ranked opponents, the Jayhawks will take a few days off and jump back into action on Saturday, when they play at 8 p.m. at TCU.