Posts tagged with Basketball
It would have been almost impossible for the Kansas University men's basketball team to follow up its nearly flawless performance against Texas over the weekend with a similar showing against Oklahoma on Big Monday.
But that might wind up being a good thing for the Jayhawks, who were not firing on all cylinders against the Sooners but still found a way to scrap out an 83-75 victory at Allen Fieldhouse.
Balanced offensive production ruled the day for KU, as all five starters reached double figures in scoring. And KU's defense improved steadily throughout the game, with its best defensive possessions coming in the game's most critical minutes.
When it was all rolled together, it produced the Jayhawks' 22nd victory of the season and moved the Jayhawks to 13-2 in Big 12 play, which earns them at least a share of an incredible 10th straight Big 12 title.
Regardless of how hard they had to fight, how tough the opponent was or how physical and exhausting the game became, KU's victory over Oklahoma will go down in history as the night the Jayhawks clinched their 10th straight Big 12 title. In many ways, the fashion in which this victory came was perfect for a Bill Self squad, as the Jayhawks had to show grit, toughness and perseverance to survive a tough OU team. In the end, when the game was on the line, the Jayhawks made the plays they needed to win — on both ends of the floor — and, perhaps most importantly, got critical contributions from a variety of players on the roster, young and old.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe sure picked a nice time to snap his shooting slump. After hitting just 2 of 19 shots in the past three games and 10 of 39 in the past five, Tharpe drilled 6 of 7 against the Sooners and connected on his only three-point attempt and all four free throw tries while willing the Jayhawks to a hard-fought victory. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the last 10 minutes of the game was as good as he's seen Tharpe play since he's been at Kansas. Hard to argue. Tharpe was direct, decisive, in full-on attack-mode and confident. Say what you will about the guy, but throughout all of the ups and downs of his career, the one thing that has never changed is his belief in himself. That's why he's playing the best ball of his career right now and that's why Kansas is winning. In addition to leading this team in assists by nearly double the next closest teammate, Tharpe also leads Kansas in three-point percentage among players with more than 20 attempts (39.4 percent), free throw percentage (82 percent) while averaging 30.1 minutes per game.
2 – He barely registered on the stat sheet, but I thought this was Brannen Greene's best game since Kansas State. The on-again-off-again reserve forward brought great energy to the floor during the 9 minutes he was out there, which was especially noticeable on the offensive glass, where he stole two extra possessions for the Jayhawks and gave the offense a lift on a night when the home fans were grumbling and the energy was lacking. Greene missed both shots he attempted and made just 1-of-2 free throw tries, but his contributions in the other aspects of his game — offensive rebounding, pushing the pace in transition, not turning the ball over once — showed not only his continued growth but also why Self continues to look his way even after off nights or disappointing days. By now it's clear that Greene is not the kind of player who will win a game by himself (at least not yet). But when he figures out how to do more good things than bad things during the limited time he's out there, it usually impacts the game and the outcome a great deal.
3 – We've reached that time of the year where freshmen are no longer freshmen and youth is no longer an excuse for mistakes, miscues, lapses or any other slip ups. Few players embody that the way KU freshman Wayne Selden does. Selden has been a solid but understated leader in his own right throughout the 2013-14 season, but it has become clear lately that he has no problem taking that leadership to the next level. On Monday, Selden barked at fellow-freshman Conner Frankamp when he elected not to shoot the ball with 6:30 to play in the first half and KU up by two. Not pulling the trigger resulted in a three-second call on KU during a time when the Jayhawks were trying to gain some separation. Credit Frankamp for not crying about it and Selden for having the ability to say something when something needed to be said. A couple of possessions later Selden put his money where his mouth was by burying a three-pointer from the same spot to pull KU within 29-28 with 4:30 to play in the first half. Self said after the game that Selden could become one of the better leaders KU has had here. The reason? “He gets it,” Self said. And he's getting it a little more every time out.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – The Jayhawks started slow in the second half yet again, this time allowing Oklahoma to turn a nine-point KU lead into a one-point lead cushion barely three minutes into the second half. Self said after the game that his team is a little tired right now and that the good thing about playing Monday and then not again until Saturday is that it gives him a chance to give his guys a couple of days off. Maybe that fatigue is the reason for these second-half stutter steps, but it sure seems like it has as much to do with their mental approach as anything else. It's not that the Jayhawks gave up the lead that is a concern, rather how quickly they let it happen. Coaches often say the the first five minutes of each half are as important as anything to the outcome of any given game. If that's true, KU's has to find a way to start the second half with the same urgency and energy that it often closes the first half.
2 – It's been a while since we've seen him lose his cool, but the physical nature of OU's big men momentarily got under the skin of KU center Joel Embiid on Monday night. Not only did Embiid's frustration lead to back-to-back charging calls early in the second half, but it also was apparent on his face throughout the game as he consistently looked to the refs to voice his displeasure with the way OU's arms were flailing and bodies were banging. To Embiid's credit, he did not let the nature of the game get the best of him. After the back-to-back charges, he took a deep breath, settled in and delivered a strong finish without so much as a peep. There's a theme developing in this “Day After” and it seems to be centered around the seemingly endless examples of maturity shown by KU's youngest players.
3 – The Jayhawks were at their best in this one when they were patient in their halfcourt sets. For a team that loves to run and was coming off of a 26-0 advantage over Texas in fastbreak points over the weekend, being patient can be tough. And the Jayhawks showed that a few too many times in this one, firing up quick shots or forcing things that weren't there. When they did settle down, though, be it while waiting for Embiid to do work on the block or when Tharpe would pick and choose his spots to attack the lane, offense became a whole lot easier and the Jayhawks looked a whole lot better. There are going to be nights when the shots don't fall. That happens to every team. But KU could definitely use the film from this game as an obvious example of both what to do and what not to do when those nights pop up.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' hard-fought victory over Oklahoma:
· Improved KU to 22-6 on the season, gave Kansas 22 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and for the 30th time in the last 31 years dating back to 1983-84.
· Gave KU a 13-2 Big 12 record and marked the ninth-straight year the Jayhawks have won 13 or more conference games beginning in 2005-06.
· Gave Kansas at least a share of its 10th-straight, 14th Big 12 and 57th overall conference regular-season championship. The 57 titles also added to KU’s all-time NCAA best.
· Including the 2014 campaign, three of Kansas’ 10-consecutive Big 12 titles were accomplished with no returning starters from the previous season (2005-06, 2008-09, 2013-14).
· Made KU the fifth team in NCAA history to win 10 or more consecutive conference championships (UCLA-13, 1967-79) (Gonzaga-11, 2001-11) (Connecticut-10, 1951-60) (UNLV-10, 1983-92).
· Made the Kansas-Oklahoma series 141-65 in favor of Kansas, including 71-16 in Lawrence and 44-7 in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Elevated the Jayhawks to 52-17 in ESPN Big Monday games, 28-1 in Allen Fieldhouse and 32-9 under Bill Self.
· Gave KU its 13th-straight win versus OU in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Made KU 13-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 174-9 in AFH in the Bill Self era and 712-109 all-time in the facility.
· Made Bill Self 13-4 all-time against Oklahoma (13-2 while at KU), 322-65 while at Kansas and 529-170 overall.
· Made KU 2,123-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will travel to Stillwater, Okla., on Saturday for an 8 p.m. clash with Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks held off the Cowboys 80-78 in a game they led big but had to hold on down the stretch to win as OSU sharp-shooter Phil Forte knocked in 7-of-10 three-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points, two more than KU's Naadir Tharpe.
I don't know about you, but I definitely did not see a 31-point Kansas victory over Texas coming when I walked into Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday evening for what was billed as a key Big 12 Conference clash with potential title implications.
After watching Texas manhandle Kansas inside in the first meeting in Austin while guard Isaiah Taylor did whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to, I figured the Jayhawks would have their hands full again with a tough and underrated Texas team.
I was mistaken.
Don't get me wrong, I expected KU (21-6 overall, 12-2 Big 12) to prevail, but I thought it would be a nip-and-tuck, hard-fought, character-building victory. Instead, it turned out to be a celebration of the highlight and appeared to be a rather enjoyable evening for everyone in crimson and blue.
A big reason for that was the performance of the Kansas defense, which stifled Taylor and held the Longhorns' offense 23 points below its season average.
An impressive victory all the way around, one that set up the opportunity to clinch at least a share of consecutive Big 12 title No. 10 on Monday night against Oklahoma.
Whether it was pride, revenge, what was at stake in the Big 12 race or a combination of all of the above, the Jayhawks played one of their most impressive games of the season and did it with the kind of bounce and confidence that makes them tough for anyone to beat anywhere at any time. Although KU's defense played a big part in the victory, the game was basically a never-ending highlight reel of Kansas dunks and frenzy-inducing transition plays that buried the Longhorns before they even knew what hit them. Let's not forget that this was a ranked Texas team that absolutely owned Kansas a few weeks ago in Austin, and KU made them look like a bad mid-major team. The scoring was balanced, the defense was stifling and KU's three stud freshman were sensational, all without a single player having to play 30 minutes or more. This one had the feel of a victory that could help a team turn the final corner and serve as a key moment of clarity for what it takes to make a serious run when it counts the most.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Kansas has a killer instinct and they weren't afraid to use it. Embarrassed in Austin, just three weeks earlier, the Jayhawks made this one personal and came out with every intent of one-upping the Longhorn domination they suffered in Austin in front of a frenzied home crowd that had been waiting a while for this one. After a semi-slow start, KU flipped the switch and went into attack mode the rest of the night.
2 – The Jayhawks' 26-0 dominating performance in fast-break points shows that the Jayhawks are starting to understand that tougher defense leads to easier offense. The 26 fast-break points scored against Texas were the second most for the Jayhawks this season — KU outscored Towson 29-8 in a 30-point victory in December — and it marked just the third time all season that KU has held an opponent to zero transition buckets. This becomes all the more important considering KU scored zero fast-break points itself in a one-point victory in Lubbock, Texas, just four days earlier. What's even more impressive is that KU has tallied single digits in fast-break points 17 times this season and Saturday's 26-point open-court explosion more than tripled KU's average heading into Saturday.
3 – Andrew Wiggins, man. The KU freshman was so good in getting the KU offense going in this one that he simply could not catch and shoot the ball quick enough during one stretch in the first half when he appeared to be in the zone and feeling it perhaps as much as at any point this entire season. His numbers were good — 21 points and 6 rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting, 3-of-5 from three-point range — his defense was great and the whole package moved Wiggins higher on some pretty impressive freshman lists at KU. He now has 442 points this season, which puts him two points behind Brandon Rush for fourth place on the all-time freshman scoring list. With at least six games remaining and potentially as many as 13 more, expect Wiggins to continue to climb that list. He already owns the top spot for KU freshmen in free throws made (128), free throws attempted (169) and freshman scoring average at 16.4 points per game.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Let's let out a big sigh of amazement for the night Tarik Black turned in, including a Blake-Griffin-esque throw-down over UT's Cameron Ridley and a monster finish of an alley-oop pass from Jamari Traylor. Black finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds and a steal in 15 minutes and has really carved out a nice role on this team. Something Tom Keegan and I talked about after the game was how interesting it would be to see Black play with Joel Embiid a little more. Maybe that's coming. Maybe it's not. Either way, it certainly appears that Black is playing with as much confidence as he's had all season.
2 – It hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things, but the Jayhawks opened both halves of this one with pretty sloppy play. UT's Jonathan Holmes scored six of the Longhorns first eight points and got them with ease. He also opened the second half with a mini-run, scoring five points in the first few minutes of the final frame while Kansas struggled to get into rhythm on offense and turned it over a couple of times. Neither sluggish stretch lasted long and, perhaps most impressive, Holmes only scored six points during the rest of the game.
3 – Naadir Tharpe's shot all of a sudden just won't go in. Although Tharpe did what was needed and then some on defense and added five assists, the junior point guard scored just 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting, including an 0-for-5 clip from three-point land. Most, if not all, of his shots were smart shots and looked good in the air, they just didn't fall. If you think about it, this could actually be a reason to smile, too, as the Jayhawks rolled and put up 85 without one of their top five scorers doing anything to put points on the board. Still, if KU is going to have much success in March, Tharpe is going to have to regain his stroke at some point in the next couple of weeks. In his last three games, the KU PG has made just 2-of-19 shot attempts, a number that improves only slightly — to 10-of-39 — during the past five outings.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' rout of Texas:
• Improved them to 21-6 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule.
• Gave them 21 wins for the 25th-consecutive season and for 30th time in the last 31 years dating back to 1983-84.
• Made them 12-2 in Big 12 play, the 14th-straight year the Jayhawks have won 12 or more conference games (beginning in 2000-01).
• Pushed the all-time series record to 23-8 in favor of KU and 12-1 in Lawrence.
• Improved their home record to 12-1 at Allen Fieldhouse this season, 173-9 in the Bill Self era and 711-109 all-time in the facility.
• Made Self 13-8 all-time against Texas (13-6 at KU), 321-65 while at Kansas and 528-170 overall.
• Made KU 2,122-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will jump back into action at 8 p.m. Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, where they will face Oklahoma for the second time this season. KU kicked off its Big 12 schedule with a 90-83 victory at Oklahoma on Jan. 8, when Wayne Selden went off for 24 points and drained 5-of-10 three-point shots.
Here are a few highlights, in case you missed any of them or just want to see them again...
Perry Ellis was sensational and the Kansas University offense hung a season-best 95 points on an overmatched TCU squad in a 30-point victory at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.
It was exactly the kind of game the Jayhawks needed to bounce back from a tough, overtime road loss at Kansas State five days earlier, but did not always look as easy and as pretty as the final score might indicate.
Ellis did, though. The Wichita sophomore had one of his best all-around games in a Kansas uniform, finishing with 32 points on 13-of-15 shooting and adding 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals to his stat line. Ellis' big day came in 31 minutes and featured a 4-for-4 performance from the free throw line and a career-best three-point mark of 2-for-2 from downtown.
There's no question that TCU entered this game overmatched, but they sure didn't look like it in the first half. Thanks to bad energy and sloppy defense, the Horned Frogs were able to score with the Jayhawks during the game's first 20 minutes, but, even with that being the case, there was no point when it looked like KU was in trouble. Bill Self's squad made sure that was the case with a fast start to the second half that made the final 15 minutes or so merely a formality. The Jayhawks were incredibly efficient offensively in the second half, as they shot 61.3 percent (61.5 percent for the game) from the floor, 90 percent from the free throw line and scored 34 of their 48 second-half points in the paint.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – After a sluggish start that had those in the Allen Fieldhouse stands grumbling with disapproval, the Jayhawks woke up at halftime and came out with much better energy and intensity in the second half. That showed on TCU's opening possession of the final 20 minutes, when KU made life miserable for the TCU player throwing the ball inbounds and then forced the Horned Frogs into a timeout five seconds after they got the ball in. The same five that started the game — Naadir Tharpe, Wayne Selden, Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Tarik Black — started the second half, so they deserve credit for setting the tone for KU's improved effort on the defensive end. Those who checked in from there quickly followed that lead, as KU held the Horned Frogs to just 33 percent shooting and 25 points in the second half after giving up marks of 56.5 and 40 in the first.
2 – Wayne Selden was as aggressive as I can ever remember seeing him and he flipped the switch at go. On the game's opening possession, after KU won the tip, Selden took a quick pass from Naadir Tharpe and exploded to the rim in an attempt to begin the game with a rim-rattler. He came up short thanks to a foul, but the aggressive play paved the way for a strong afternoon from Selden, who finished with 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting, numbers that included 11 points and 4 assists on 5-of-9 shooting in the first half. It wasn't just Selden's desire to attack the rim that showed his attack-mode mindset. The freshman guard aggressively looked for his shot in KU's half-court offense, went after his own misses with reckless abandon and really appeared to assert himself during the portions of the game when he was one of the top scoring options on the floor.
3 – Selden said there was no issue with adjusting to a new rotation with Joel Embiid (injury) and Brannen Greene (discipline) on the bench in street clothes — “Everybody on the team knows how to do their job and the job is going to get done no matter who is on the court,” he said. — but I still think KU deserves credit for showing no signs of weakness, offensively, with two potentially high-minute, regular-rotation guys on the bench. The ball movement was crisp and quick, guys played unselfishly and really looked to be playing for each other, consistently passing up potential shots for easier shots for teammates. Four Kansas players finished with four or more assists, with the man who poured in 32 points leading the way with five dimes.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It may be merely a coincidence, but Saturday's game was the second in a row in which Kansas took the floor with very little energy and bounce against a team it had drubbed by 20-plus points just a few weeks earlier. It makes sense on the road, but it was weird to see in Allen Fieldhouse. The Big 12 Conference schedule is a grind — particularly this season — and it's human nature to overlook a team you had no trouble with the first time you played them. This only becomes an issue if the slow starts continue. Self talked after the game about not really knowing why his team can't or doesn't play with the same intensity in the opening minutes as it does in the final minutes, and you can bet finding a way to fix that is high on his list of priorities.
2 – It hardly mattered in the grand scheme of things, but KU's free throw shooting matched its lack of energy in the early going. The Jayhawks missed their first six free throws and made just 1 of 8 attempts from the foul line in the first half. Those missed opportunities allowed TCU to hang closer than they should've and they came from four different players. The home team's struggle at the free throw line in the early going was so noticeable that when Landen Lucas finally ended the drought by making the second of two free-throw attempts at the 11:34 mark of the first half, the Allen Fieldhouse faithful let out a wail of a Bronx cheer. KU cleaned things up in this area in the second half to the tune of a 9-of-10 mark from the foul line. But many of their second-half free throws had absolutely no pressure attached to them and, for the game, KU still shot just 58.8 percent. On the season, Kansas is now shooting 69.5 percent from the free throw line, just slightly better than the 66.7 percent mark turned in by KU's opponents.
3 – For the second game in a row, a key member of KU's roster was benched for disciplinary reasons, as freshman forward Brannen Greene did not suit up because of a “pattern of irresponsible behavior.” There's no telling what Greene did to draw Self's wrath, but the timing couldn't be worse. The versatile freshman who fought hard to get into the rotation last Monday at K-State played just his second game of 15-plus minutes and was a huge reason KU forced overtime in that one. Given that Greene's one-game suspension came right after Jamari Traylor suffered a similar fate, it's worth noting that, with the most critical part of the season right around the corner, it's time for these guys to tighten things up so their actions don't have a negative impact on what the team is trying to accomplish.
One thought for the road:
Saturday's home-court beatdown of TCU:
• Improved KU to 19-6 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule.
• Made Kansas 10-2 in Big 12 play, the 20th-straight year the Jayhawks have won 10 or more conference games (beginning in 1994-95).
• Gave the Jayhawks their third-straight win against TCU and pushed the all-time series to 7-1 in favor of KU.
• Handed Kansas its 112th-consecutive win against unranked opponents inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Made Bill Self 11-4 all-time against TCU (5-1 at KU), 319-65 while at Kansas and 526-170 overall.
• Made KU 2,120-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks will travel to Texas Tech on Tuesday night for their first match-up with the Red Raiders this season. The game is scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m.
If you've been paying attention at all, you know by now that this year's Kansas basketball team has left a little to be desired when it comes to three-point shooting.
It's not that the 2013-14 Jayhawks don't have solid three-point shooters — Brannen Greene and Conner Frankamp have pure strokes and Naadir Tharpe can knock down the long-range shot with regularity, as well — more that the team has not utilized the three-point shot the way past Kansas teams have.
Part of the reason for that is both Greene and Frankamp have played limited minutes through the first 24 games of the season (both are averaging around 7 minutes per game) and the Jayhawks (18-6 overall, 9-2 in Big 12 play) have relied heavily on pounding the ball inside to a deep and talented group of big men and the free-lance abilities of freshman forward Andrew Wiggins for their offense.
Overall, the KU's three-point percentage has remained solid. Through 24 games, the Jayhawks are hitting 35.9 percent of its shots from downtown, which puts them tied for 111th in the country and 5th in the Big 12.
It also is right on par with the percentage shot by KU's three most recent teams — the 2012-13 shot 36.4 percent; the 2011-12 team shot 34.5 percent; and the 2010-11 team shot 38.2 percent.
So while this year's Jayhawks are on pace to finish in the same ballpark as their recent counterparts in terms of percentage, they are quickly falling behind in terms of three-point makes.
This year's team has made 132 three-pointers and attempted 368. That averages out to 5.5 makes per game in 15.3 attempts per game. Both numbers are the lowest through 24 games in the past four seasons.
Here's a quick look back at what each of the past four KU teams (including this season) had done from downtown by this same point in the season, complete with a look at the top four three-point shooting options on each team.
— All stats below through 24 games —
• 2013-14 •
Three-point makes: 132
Three-point attempts: 368
Three-point percentage: 35.9
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 3
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 9
Naadir Tharpe: 35-80
Wayne Selden: 30-83
Andrew Wiggins: 29-83
Frank Mason: 11-37
• 2012-13 •
Three-point makes: 140
Three-point attempts: 394
Three-point percentage: 35.5
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 4
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 7
Ben McLemore: 47-108
Elijah Johnson: 34-108
Travis Releford: 26-60
Naadir Tharpe: 23-70
• 2011-12 •
Three-point makes: 147
Three-point attempts: 423
Three-point percentage: 34.8
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 4
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 8
Tyshawn Taylor: 41-91
Conner Teahan: 38-102
Elijah Johnson: 37-131
Travis Releford: 20-55
• 2010-11 •
Three-point makes: 179
Three-point attempts: 454
Three-point percentage: 39.4
Players with 20 or more three-point makes: 3
Players with at least 1 three-point make: 11
Tyrel Reed: 48-125
Josh Selby: 27-62
Brady Morningstar: 20-55
Marcus Morris: 18-51
As you can see by looking at the numbers, KU's top three-point shooters this year are taking and making fewer three-pointers than the top four long-range bombers from each of the past three seasons.
What's more, if you took the best pure three-point shooters on this year's KU roster (Frankamp, Greene & Andrew White) and combined them into one player, that player still would have low totals of makes (23) and attempts (68) due to limited playing time.
Given the increased importance of three-point shooting in today's college game, along with the correlation between hot shooting teams and their chances at victory, KU's numbers through the first 24 games of the 2013-14 season have to be at least a bit of a concern. There's no doubt that KU coach Bill Self and those on the roster would like to knock in a few more three-pointers per game, a feat that, if it came, would both loosen up things inside for KU's big men and give guys like Wiggins more room to work on drives to the rim.
But while KU's volume of makes and attempts might lag behind that of its predecessors, the fact that the Jayhawks still are knocking in a quality percentage is a good sign. The problem with lower volume is that it increases the importance of each attempt, making the misses sting more and the makes more critical.
In KU's most recent game — an 85-82 overtime loss at Kansas State on Monday in which the Jayhawks made just 3 of 17 three-pointers — both Frankamp and Greene logged the second most minutes they have played all season, at 15 apiece, more than doubling their season averages.
Both players have a ways to go on the defensive end to make receiving double-digit minutes a more regular thing, but their presence on the floor certainly would help KU's chances of bringing its three-point totals closer to where Self's teams have been at this point in the past.
There are a lot of factors that will determine just how well this team finishes the season and how far it advances in March, but getting better and more consistent three-point shooting from the entire roster figures to be as important as any of them.
It was a wild night in Manhattan, with the home team — not to mention the atmosphere — winning out in an 85-82 overtime victory for Kansas State, just the fourth win for the Wildcats over Kansas in the past 52 games.
Despite 10 ties and 20 lead changes, K-State controlled things most of the way, taking advantage of poor Kansas defense and a cold shooting night from most of the Jayhawks' big guns.
KU never led by more than two points and only forced overtime because of a frantic stretch in the final two minutes. The Jayhawks opened the overtime with a Tarik Black layup to take a 71-69 lead, but Kansas State scored 11 of the next 15 points to take an 80-75 lead with 1:14 to play and then salted the game away at the free throw line.
There are a million stats you can point to that illustrate the reason Kansas came up on the short end of this one. The Jayhawks missed 11 free throws. They shot just 3-of-17 from three-point range (and one of the makes was a meaningless swish at the buzzer) and they allowed K-State to shoot 49.2 percent for the game, including 57.7 percent in the second half and 66.7 percent in OT. For my money, though, this one came down to the fact that the team that played harder and seemed hungrier came out on top. Credit the Wildcats and their coaching staff for that, along with the impact of the frenzied fans who filled Bramlage Coliseum.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – When you look at the aforementioned statistics and consider the way Kansas played out of sync all night, it's pretty wild to think they still almost came away with the victory. I don't think KU played all that well and I definitely think more than a few guys had really odd nights. But enough Jayhawks fought hard enough to force overtime and give KU a chance to win despite a pretty awful night on both ends of the floor. The fight shown by Andrew Wiggins, Naadir Tharpe, Perry Ellis, Tarik Black and Brannen Greene was the biggest reason.
2 – Speaking of Brannen Greene, he definitely made his case for more playing time if for no other reason than the heart he showed to help Kansas erase a nine-point deficit in the final 1:58. Greene's put-back dunk and steal and layup in a six-second stretch single-handedly gave KU hope. The freshman forward played just 15 of 45 minutes yet finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. He leaves a little to be desired defensively and occasionally falls victim to mental lapses, but he's a gamer and he almost always carries himself with poise. I'm not saying start him, but it's cool to see him becoming more and more reliable.
3 – After being virtually non-existent in the first half, Naadir Tharpe's second half was rock solid. His clutch buckets in the waning minutes kept KU breathing and took some of the pressure off of Wiggins having to do it all. Tharpe, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with 13 points and 10 assists in 38 minutes. He didn't shoot it that well (he was just 6-of-13 and 1-of-5 from downtown) but the ones he made came in tough spots.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – For the second time this season, the Wildcats exposed KU's half-court defense and scored a ton of points right at the rim. Forty percent of K-State's points (34 of 85) came on either dunks or layups, including 22 of 40 second-half points, good for 55 percent. A month ago, in Lawrence, the Wildcats had similar success (26 of 60 points at the rim for 43 percent) but it didn't matter because Kansas was great offensively and the Wildcats did not shoot the ball as well from outside the paint. In this one, though, it mattered a ton, as each KSU layup not only made it tougher for KU to crawl back into it but also appeared to deliver a significant mental blow.
2 – It was another slow night for Joel Embiid, who contributed just 6 points and 6 rebounds in 18 injury-plagued minutes. It's not so much the production here that's a concern. It's the fact that Embiid is pretty banged up. KU coach Bill Self said after the game that the 7-foot center needed some time off and whether that means taking it easy in practice or perhaps even missing a game or two remains to be seen. Either way, it's definitely necessary because Embiid is not very effective right now and the team is suffering because of it.
3 – Although the details of his benching remain unclear, sophomore forward Jamari Traylor did enough to anger his coach and earn a permanent spot on the bench in this one. All kinds of rumors about how and why Traylor ticked Self off exist. They're irrelevant. What matters is that Traylor's poor judgement put his team in a bad spot, a fact of which he's very aware. After the game on Twitter, Traylor wrote to his followers: “I will never put myself in this position again...” On a night when Perry Ellis fouled out, Tarik Black reinjured his ankle and Embiid could only play 18 minutes, the athletic big man could have made a major impact for Kansas.
One thought for the road:
KU's overtime loss at its in-state rival:
• Moved KU to 18-6 on the season, against the nation's most difficult strength of schedule.
• Made Kansas 9-2 in Big 12 play.
• Made Kansas 61-55 all-time in overtime games.
• Ended a six-game Kansas winning streak over Kansas State.
• Made KU's all-time series record against the Wildcats 187-92, including a 40-4 mark in the Big 12 era and 23-3 inside Bramlage Coliseum.
• Made Bill Self 23-4 all-time against KSU (22-4 while at KU).
• Gave Wildcats' head coach Bruce Weber his first career win against Kansas. He's now 1-5.
• Changed Bill Self's record to 318-65 while at Kansas and 525-170 overall.
• Made KU 2,119-818 all-time.
The Jayhawks return home at 3 p.m. on Saturday to take on TCU, which currently is winless in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks rocked TCU 91-69 in Fort Worth, Texas, on Jan. 25 and will be looking to sweep the season series.
After a 1-1 road trip through Texas, the Jayhawks returned to the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday and came away with a hard-fought 83-69 victory over West Virginia.
The game was much closer and tougher than the final score indicates and the Jayhawks (18-5 overall, 9-1 Big 12) made several winning plays at crucial moments to hold off the hot Mountaineers.
A big reason for that was KU's bench, which simply threw too much depth at West Virginia and helped the Jayhawks hold off a WVU team that just kept coming.
Given the final score and where the Mountaineers have been in recent years, those who didn't watch the game will likely think it was just another easy win at home for Kansas. Those who watched it know otherwise.
Credit Andrew Wiggins for being the difference maker in this one. That may be obvious given his 19 points, but it wasn't as much his stats that impressed me as it was his mindset. He was aggressive and in attack-mode on both ends from the jump and really put the pressure on West Virginia's defense while taking the pressure off of his teammates at the same time. Jamari Traylor and Tarik Black were great in relief of Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid, but Wiggins had a lot to do with KU's huge advantage in points in the paint, as well. West Virginia's the kind of team that could've caused KU trouble, but the Jayhawks played to their strengths and got an A-performance from their best player.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Tarik Black may have taken a little while to find his role but he has definitely found it and is playing it perfectly. In 21 minutes against WVU, Black made all three shots he attempted, his 5-of-7 free throws and grabbed four rebounds while scoring 11 points. He also recorded four fouls, only one of which was that old Tarik-can't-help-but-foul style that delayed him from settling into his role. Black plays like a man who knows what he's supposed to do, and, better yet, he often does it well. His post moves look smoother and are becoming more effective, which makes him more than just another big body. Gifted with a great attitude and improving skills, Black is the kind of guy with whom teammates like to play.
2 – After dotting the Jayhawks for 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half, KU tightened up its defense on WVU guards Eron Harris and Juwan Staten and forced them into enough tough shots to change the game. Even when Staten and Harris did score, it came on tough buckets or at the free throw line. Andrew Wiggins spent most of the game guarding Harris and, after letting him get loose for three straight three-pointers in the first half, took it as a challenge to make life tougher. He did. And it was the perfect tune-up for what Wiggins figures to see from K-State guard Marcus Foster on Monday night.
3 – Speaking of Wiggins, if this is the only season we'll get to see him in Allen Fieldhouse, I think we should all enjoy the little things he does a little more and worry less about his shot or the bottom line of his final statistics. The guy is an amazing athlete and, on a nightly basis, does a handful of things that you might never see again. One such play came late in the first half, when Wiggins drove to the rim and was bumped into a fade-away jumper in the paint by the WVU defense. They could have called a foul but didn't. That's not the point, though. Despite, being forced to fade away from the rim as he shot, Wiggins still was the first guy to get his hand on the ball as it bounced off the rim. That's scary quickness. And, perhaps more importantly for KU fans, that shows just how driven and competitive this guy really is. Forget how hard he plays or what he looks like when he's out there doing his thing, it's these kinds of things that make NBA general managers salivate over Wiggins and his potential.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – For this sigh, we'll do one of those roll-your-eyes and throw-your-hands-up deals for the night turned in by KU freshman Joel Embiid. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who said anything other than the fact that Embiid struggled against the Mountaineers, yet he still wound up with a double-double of 11 poitns and 12 rebounds in 17 minutes. When is a guy is that naturally gifted and that talented than he can record a double-double on an off night while playing six minutes below his average, all you can do is sigh.
2 – It wasn't a good three-point shooting night for the Jayhawks, who made just 4-of-14 from downtown for 29 percent. Other than Wayne Selden, who finished 3-of-5 from three-point range, KU got just one other three-point make from its roster. On a night when you dominate your opponent 46-18 in the paint, that's not such a big deal. But this team's inconsistent three-point shooting can't be overlooked and is still a bit of a concern. For the season, KU has made 129 of 351 three-pointers, good for a 37-percent shooting clip. But it's the total number of makes that is the bigger sign of where they're at. The 129 three-pointers made is the lowest total in the past four seasons, trailing last year's mark of 132 by just a couple, but way off the pace set by the 2011-12 team (141) and the 2010-11 team (168).
3 – Since winning national player of the week honors after shooting 7-of-8 and 7-of-9 in back-to-back games earlier this season, KU junior Naadir Tharpe has taken a step back with his shot. That's not to say Tharpe has played poorly since then, just that he hasn't looked to shoot as often and hasn't made them as much either. Part of it could be his desire to get everyone else involved. He's always claimed that that's his No. 1 goal every time out an I believe him. But this team seems to play at a higher level when he's scoring. Maybe Saturday was just balancing out his hot performance against Baylor, where he was 9-of-13. Combined, that's 11-for-20. Very good. But in the other games since that hot streak (not counting Baylor) Tharpe made just 8 of 21 shots. I'm not worried about the percentage there, more than number of shots. That's an average of just four attempts per game.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks ninth win in conference play:
• Improved them to 18-5 on the season, against the nation’s most difficult strength of schedule.
• Made them 9-1 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
• Kept the Jayhawks undefeated in three meetings with West Virginia, including two double-digit wins inside Allen Fieldhouse.
• Was the Jayhawks’ 111th straight win against unranked opponents inside Allen Fieldhouse dating back to the 2006-07 season.
• Made them 10-1 in Allen Fieldhouse this season, 171-9 under Bill Self and 709-109 all-time in the venue.
• Made Bill Self 3-0 all-time against WVU, and dropped Mountaineers’ head coach Bob Huggins to 0-7 against Kansas.
• Improved Bill Self to 318-64 while at Kansas and 525-169 overall.
• Made KU 2,119-817 all-time.
The Jayhawks travel to Manhattan on Monday for a rematch with Kansas State at 8 p.m. at Bramlage Coliseum. KU dismantled K-State 86-60 Jan. 11 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Apologies for the one-day delay on “The Day After,” folks. Yesterday's national signing day football festivities kept me occupied from sun-up to sun-down.
If you missed any of that, check out our signing day blog that ran for nearly 12 hours and this signing day wrap-up story that explains how the Jayhawks enjoyed a smooth day and came away feeling pretty good about the 2014 class.
Now, back to the basketball...
A few days before it arrive, the Kansas vs. Baylor game in Waco, Texas, looked like just another game on the schedule.
But then the Jayhawks lost at Texas, Baylor won at Oklahoma State and that set up an all-of-a-sudden huge game for both teams. Clearly, Kansas was up for the challenge, as the Jayhawks played great defense, dominated the glass and came away with a 69-52 victory.
Despite a third consecutive quiet half from Andrew Wiggins and an all-around off game from Joel Embiid, the Jayhawks dominated the Bears after a slow start thanks largely to the inspired play of point guard Naadir Tharpe and reserve big men Tarik Black (6 points, 9 rebounds in 23 minutes) and Jamari Traylor (4 points, 3 rebounds in 10 minutes). Both were critical to KU controlling the rebounding situation and both helped offset the slow night from Embiid. Unlike last Saturday at Texas, when no one stepped up to pick up the slack when KU's starters struggled, the Jayhawks got a much more inspired effort from a lot of guys in this one and came away with a key road victory while maintaining control of the conference race.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Wayne Selden's defense on Baylor sharp-shooter Brady Heslip. After watching Heslip drill three three-pointers while being guarded by Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason in the game's early minutes, Selden switched on to Heslip and shut him down the rest of the way. After starting 3-of-4 from three-point range and hitting four three-pointers in the first half, Heslip finished just 4-of-10 from downtown for the game and 4-of-14 from the floor overall for 12 points, zero in the second half. Those numbers came in 35 minutes, so, thanks to Selden's defense, the Bears' essentially played 4 on 5, offensively, during the final 30 minutes of the game.
2 – Baylor's zone gave KU some trouble early on but the Jayhawks snapped out of it and started doing a much better job of attacking the zone to build their eight-point halftime lead. Naadir Tharpe led the charge by getting into the teeth of the zone but Perry Ellis, Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor and even KU's wings did a nice job of finding room at the high post, attacking through the lane and getting easy buckets or put-back opportunities for offensive rebounders.
3 – By now, everyone knows Naadir Tharpe had another big game, but I think one of the most impressive parts of Tharpe's game was the fact that he didn't force anything despite feeling really good about his night. Here's what I mean. Tharpe, who finished with 22 points (one off of a career-high) reached the 20-point mark with 10 minutes still to play. It looked as if he would shatter his career high at that point, but he did not force shots or worry at all about his offense down the stretch. His goal was to steer the Jayhawks to an easy victory by making the smart plays and getting others involved. As Bill Self has said before, Tharpe has become a heck of a closer. Perry Ellis also deserves props for a strong start and for finishing at the rim, which built his confidence and helped the Jayhawks weather the slow start.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – It's hard to know exactly what the issue was but Joel Embiid definitely had one of his worst games as a Jayhawk. It wasn't just his stats — 1-for-6 shooting, 5 points, 4 fouls, 3 turnovers in 17 minutes — that made this one look bad. Embiid just looked out of sync on both ends and seemed frustrated throughout. Is the knee still bothering him a little? Was the pregame NBA talk in his head?
2 – Although the Jayhawks finished with a flurry and cruised to victory, they made things a little tighter than they needed to. After building a 40-29 lead early in the second half, the Jayhawks allowed the Bears to climb back and cut the lead to just a few points instead of delivering the knockout blow. Doing such is easier said than done, especially on the road, but KU let a golden opportunity to bury the Bears early slip away.
3 – For the most part, this was a pretty solid bounce-back game for the Jayhawks, so let's make the third reason to sigh because of a sigh of relief. This group, even the guys who weren't here last year, was very focused on making sure that one loss didn't turn into two the way it did during a three-game losing streak last year, and they went out and took care of business against a team and in an environment that could have been much more difficult.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' road win at Baylor:
· Improved KU to 17-5 on the season
· Made Kansas 8-1 in Big 12 play for the first time since the 2010-11 season
· Bumped up KU’s all-time series lead over Baylor to 21-4, including 9-2 at the Ferrell Center
· Made Bill Self 13-4 all-time against BU (13-3 while at KU), 317-64 while at Kansas and 524-169 overall
· Made KU 2,118-817 all-time
The Jayhawks return home Saturday to take on West Virginia at 3 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks and Mountaineers have not faced each other yet this season.
It may be Super Bowl Sunday, but there certainly was nothing super about the Jayhawks' 81-69 loss at Texas on Saturday.
Although the Longhorns holding a double-digit lead for the majority of the game came as a bit of a surprise, the fact that Kansas lost was not all that shocking. For one, it was on the road. For two, Texas has been playing solid ball lately. And, for three, as hot as KU had been it definitely was no shock to see them cool off.
The loss certainly makes the Big 12 race much more interesting as the Longhorns now sit just one game back with 10 to play. As you probably know, Saturday was not a total loss for the Jayhawks, though, as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State both lost, giving them three and four Big 12 losses, respectively.
With Texas still having to return to Allen Fieldhouse (Feb. 22) and still staring at games at Iowa State, at Kansas State and home against Baylor and Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks remain in the driver's seat for a 10th consecutive Big 12 title. But Saturday's result definitely added some drama back into the race.
As has been the case for decades, Kansas takes everyone's best shot every time they step on the floor. That becomes particularly true for road games, where the opponent's home fans often are as fired up as the players, if not more. To me, that was a big a reason for Saturday's outcome as any. You could just see the Longhorns really wanted this one and then went out and got it. No shame in losing a game to a team that played as well or as inspired as Texas did.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – I thought you could really see KU's competitiveness come out in this one. They did not play well and they shot the ball terribly, but it did not appear to me that anybody was willing to accept defeat. When trailing by double digits throughout the end of the first half and entire second half, I thought KU really dug in defensively and tried to do everything it could to get back into it. There were breakdowns and there were plenty of times were Texas did not care about KU's intensity or effort, but I thought it was there. It really showed in Wiggins, who has been solid defensively all year but really appeared to try to elevate his game there against UT to help KU get back into it. Maybe that had a little to do with the off night offensively.
2 – In the first half, when KU could not hit an outside shot, the Jayhawks kept attacking the rim. Guards, bigs, whoever, KU refused to just settle for bad jumpers. It didn't really work out, as Texas' defense in the paint was fantastic, but it's better to struggle offensively while staying in attack mode than to struggle offensively because you're taking bad shots. There were a few of those in this one, but for the most part, KU remained aggressive offensively.
3 – Senior forward Tarik Black returned from injury and showed that his time off did not hit him with a case of amnesia and cause him to forget what to do and when to do it when in the game.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Flat out, I thought the charge call on Wayne Selden with seven minutes left to play was atrocious. Sure the potential three-point play would've only cut the UT lead to 14 and far from guaranteed a different outcome, but it would've given KU some momentum with plenty of time left. Beyond that, it was just a bad, bad call.
2 – I love that Brannen Greene has the ability to come in cold and knock down a shot at almost any time. Says a lot about his game, his preparation and his mentality. But he's in danger of becoming a one-trick pony and no one proved that better than Jonathan Holmes, who had a monster block of a Greene three-pointer in Saturday's loss. A pump fake there would've given Greene a wide open 16-footer. I know the guy likes the three ball, but he's getting enough minutes now to warrant him becoming a little more than a spot-up shooter.
3 – Perry Ellis continued to struggle to finish shots against bigger bodies. It wasn't for a lack of effort, but over the past few weeks, Ellis has been physically bumped into missed shots far too often. The one that stood out in this game the most was off the beautiful dime from Naadir Tharpe across the lane in the first half. Should've been an easy deuce.
One thought for the road:
The Jayhawks' first loss in Big 12 play:
• Made Kansas 7-1 in Big 12 play, keeping the 2002 Jayhawks the only team to have gone undefeated in a Big 12 season (16-0)
• Made KU 7-1 in conference play for the first time since the 2010-11 season
• Ended the Jayhawks’ longest winning streak of the season at seven
• Made the Kansas-Texas series 22-8 in favor of KU, including 6-6 mark in the Frank Erwin Center
• Ended KU’s win streak over Texas at five-straight
• Made Bill Self 12-8 all-time against UT (12-6 while at KU), 316-64 while at Kansas and 523-169 overall
• Made KU 2,117-817 all-time
The Jayhawks will face another tough opponent and another road crowd on Tuesday, when they travel to Waco, Texas, to take on Baylor at 6 p.m.
Kansas came into the game at 5-0 in the Big 12 and the Horned Frogs entered the game at 0-6, so the outcome was far from a surprise. But given the fact that the last time the Jayhawks played at TCU they inspired KU coach Bill Self to mention past futile match-ups with Topeka YMCA, the victory registers as a positive step for a team that really seems to be hitting its stride.
Kansas has now won six straight games, has a stranglehold on the Big 12 Conference race and finds ways, big and small, to get better every time they take the floor.
The bottom line about KU's latest victory demonstrates the maturity and developing killer instinct this team has. Although very few of the guys who contributed to this victory were there last year when KU laid an egg, they still treated the trip to TCU with a business-like mentality. The soaring Jayhawks nearly scored as many in the first half (53) as they did in the entire game last year (55) in Fort Worth. And it's clear that this group was determined to put to bed all of the talk about last year's meltdown. Road conference wins are never easy, but the Jayhawks made this one look like cake.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – How about Landen Lucas. With Tarik Black wearing a boot and unable to play, Lucas filled his spot in the rotation admirably. He finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds in just 13 minutes and hit 3 of 4 shots while displaying the belief that he belonged. Lucas has embraced his limited role on this team about as well as anybody, and his intelligence, maturity and team-first mentality ensure that he's already ready if needed.
2 – Jayhawks attacked the rim. Whether it was Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis, Joel Embiid or Wayne Selden, the Jayhawks chose the dunk as their weapon of choice to show that this year would be different. KU attacked the rim and finished with authority from the jump and seemed to look to drop the hammer whenever possible. You can see it in a lot of ways, and this is just one of them, but it's very clear that this team's confidence is sky-high right now.
3 – Post-entry passes on point. It's a small detail that plays a big role in the KU offense and the Jayhawks were fantastic feeding the post against the Horned Frogs. Whether it was the high passes to the corner of the backboard that only KU's post players could catch or zipped bounce passes to bigs who had their defenders sealed, KU made sure to take advantage of its opportunities and advantage inside, which showed when three TCU players fouled out
Three reasons to sigh:
(Disclaimer: This was a pretty clean game and these are a little nit-picky)
1 – They more than made up for it with a blistering 62 percent shooting performance and 21-point lead in the first half, but in the game's earliest moments, KU looked a little scattered, particularly on offense. To me, that was a sign of them pressing a little to make sure that what happened last year did not happen again this year. It didn't last long, and once they just settled down and played, they turned in one of their better offensive games of the season, so, again, hardly a big deal.
2 – Coaches get paid a lot of money to make good decisions and 99.9% of the time they do just that. But I've never understood why some coaches have key players on the floor late in blowouts. I'm sure they have their reasons and I'm sure those reasons are sound, but I was more than a little surprised to see Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins still on the floor in the final five minutes with KU leading by nearly 20 points. Selden and Wiggins checked out for good at the 1:56 mark and no harm was done. But, to me, it just hardly seems worth the risk of having a couple of key starters out there that late when the game is well in hand.
3 – Free throw shooting. The Jayhawks won by 22 and looked great doing it. But that easily could have been a 30-point spread if KU had hit its free throws. The Jayhawks missed 13 overall, with Joel Embiid missing nearly half of his trips (5 of 11). These weren't clutch free throws we're talking about, so all's well that ends well, but something like 30-of-38 would've looked a lot better than 25-of-38. Like I said, we're nit-picking a little here.
One for the road:
The Jayhawks' dominating road win over TCU:
• Kept Kansas as the only undefeated team in conference play, making KU 6-0 for the third-straight time and the sixth time in the 11-year Bill Self era.
• Increased the Jayhawks’ series lead to 6-1 all-time against the Horned Frogs, including a 2-1 advantage in Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
• Moved Kansas head coach Bill Self to 10-4 all-time against TCU, 315 63 while at Kansas and 522-168 overall.
• Pushed KU's all-time record to 2,116-816.
The Jayhawks return home Wednesday, Jan. 29, for a rematch with Iowa State at 8 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse. KU knocked off Iowa State 77-70 Jan. 13 in Ames, Iowa.
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.