Kansas losing skid reaches 3 after 75-69 loss to No. 17 Baylor in Waco

Kansas forward Jalen Wilson (10) drives the ball upcourt against Baylor guard Langston Love (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Waco, Texas — The meat of the Big 12 Conference schedule continued to be a mighty struggle for No. 9 Kansas on Monday night, with the Jayhawks falling to 17th-ranked Baylor, 75-69, at Ferrell Center.

The loss was the third in a row for the Jayhawks — all three to ranked teams — who fell to 16-4 overall and 5-3 in Big 12 play after winning their first five games on the conference schedule in thrilling and exhausting fashion.

KU last lost three games in a row during the 2020-21 season, falling in consecutive outings to Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma that season.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us losing three in a row,” KU junior Jalen Wilson said after the loss. “We’re Kansas; so that’s all they want us to do is lose. We’ve just got to find a way to bounce back and just come together more.”

In retrospect, although the Jayhawks pulled out tough wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Texas Tech earlier this season, the close nature of those games may have been a sign of oncoming trouble, and the Bears and TCU Horned Frogs have hit these Jayhawks like a freight train in the past few days.

“This team has done really well, but this team has done really well and caught some good fortune in doing well,” KU coach Bill Self said earlier in the week.

That good fortune has been nowhere to be found in the past three games and Monday night certainly was no different.

After another rough and sluggish first half that featured just about everything you could think of going wrong, the Jayhawks played their best five minutes of the past week and actually took a one-point lead early in the second half.

The lead lasted exactly 52 seconds. Baylor (15-5, 5-3) and its home crowd woke up and responded with a vengeance, and Kansas never got closer than five points during the game’s final 12 minutes of play.

“That was a good Baylor team,” KU guard Kevin McCullar Jr. said. “It was another Big 12 battle. It was a game of runs for sure. We played it to the wire and it didn’t work out in our favor.”

Added Self: “I didn’t think we played bad, I just didn’t think we rebounded very well.”

While Baylor guards LJ Cryer and Adam Flagler combined for 39 points on 7-of-20 3-point shooting, the Jayhawks were out-worked 17-8 on the offensive glass. Self said those extra chances for the Bears, who shot just 37% for the night but took 10 more shots than Kansas, played a big role in the outcome.

“We just didn’t rebound the basketball,” he said. “You know, when you’re switching that much and (you’re) that small, you’ve got to be able to fight on the glass. … Their players were just better offensively than we were individually defensively.”

For the game, BU out-rebounded Kansas 35-33.

The final dagger — other than the chants of “over-rated” from the BU crowd late — came when Baylor’s Jalen Bridges hammered home a breakaway dunk after a Dajuan Harris turnover in transition that kept KU from cutting into the BU lead and put the Bears up 70-61 with less than three minutes to play.

KU freshman Gradey Dick (24 points) and Jalen Wilson (23) led the Jayhawks in scoring on Monday night, with McCullar adding 14.

But, once again, it was the Kansas defense and the Jayhawks’ inability to string together stops or make Baylor uncomfortable that led to the loss.

After hitting his first 3-point attempt of the game, perhaps signaling the coming end of the mini-shooting slump he has endured lately, Dick picked up his second foul with 16:49 to play in the first half and sat for the next 7:24 of game action.

His triple pulled the Jayhawks within two, at 5-3, but the Bears rattled off a 15-4 run from there to take a 20-7 lead. The Jayhawks turned it over five times in the game’s first five minutes and also watched Baylor hit three of its first six 3-point attempts in building that lead.

For the game, Baylor finished 9-of-30 from 3-point range, making good on a warning of sorts that Self uttered after KU’s loss to TCU last Saturday, when he said KU could go down to Waco and play better and still get beat because Baylor knocked in a bunch of 3s.

That’s exactly what happened, with the Bears’ deep shots hurting the Jayhawks in both halves.

“Well, it’s three games in a row,” Self said of watching the Jayhawks struggle out of the gate. “It’s probably more than that. I think that we can certainly be better in that area, but I’ll be honest with you, the way that K-State played the first 10 minutes, the way that TCU played the first 10 minutes and the way that Baylor played the first 10 minutes, if we’d have played really well we would’ve still been behind. Those three teams played great. I mean, Baylor made everything they looked at to start.”

After receiving first-place votes in the AP poll in back-to-back weeks, Kansas suddenly finds itself in one of those funks where it just seems like everything they do looks difficult. Monday’s game featured plenty of those moments.

“When you dig yourself a hole early, it’s definitely hard,” McCullar said. “You always want to be the one up. But you’re going to have to win games like that down the stretch, in this league and beyond that in March Madness. So we’re just building on it. We’ll look at the tape, learn from it and be ready for the next one.”

After Ernest Udeh Jr., did an admirable job of guarding quicker, much-more-confident BU guard Adam Flagler on the perimeter to force a miss, Joe Yesufu whiffed on the rebound that essentially came right to him. The gaffe led to two free throws for the Bears, who went up 27-16.

Kansas center Ernest Udeh Jr. (23) and Baylor guard Adam Flagler (10) get tied up while trying to retrieve the ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

On a couple of KU’s possessions that followed, Udeh struggled to even secure a post catch — while posting up well outside of the paint — and McCullar could not find anyone to inbound the ball to underneath the KU basket. He eventually did get it in but only after Dick attacked the ball in the air to maintain possession for the Jayhawks.

Few miscues summed up KU’s struggles better than four point-blank misses at the rim midway through the second half that would’ve pulled the Jayhawks within four.

All four misses — three by McCullar and one by Adams — were contested by Baylor defenders, but their importance was magnified drastically when Langston Love converted an old-fashioned three-point play on the next end, powering right through Harris on his way to the basket.

That put the Bears back up by nine and completely erased all of the good Kansas had done to get the lead after trailing by seven (41-34) at the break.

“We played pretty well up until that point,” Self said after the loss. “And they went on a run right after that and then we were never able to catch up.”

Later, after the Bears had pushed their lead back to a dozen, Wilson and Harris missed back-to-back 3-pointers in shocking fashion, with Wilson’s miss clanging off the backboard to the left of the rim and Harris’ failing to even get to the rim.

After returning home late Monday night, the Jayhawks will spend the rest of the week resting and regrouping for Saturday’s game at Kentucky in a battle of the two winningest programs in college basketball history that looks a lot different today than it did on the schedule when the season opened.

“The good thing (is) we don’t play again until Saturday,” Wilson said. “So we get to rest a little bit, regroup a little bit and just be aware of what we need to do better.”

Added McCullar, when asked what comes next: “Get back to work. That’s all you can do. Short-term memory. That’s what coach Self is preaching to us. Learn from it. Have a great week of preparation and go out there and compete.”

Saturday’s game in Lexington, Kentucky, is slated for a 7 p.m. tipoff on ESPN during the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Baylor guard Keyonte George, center left, has his shot blocked by Kansas forward K.J. Adams Jr., center right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Baylor guard Keyonte George, front left, drives the ball against Kansas guard Joseph Yesufu, front right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

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