KU kept at arm’s length in 82-74 loss to Baylor

photo by: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Baylor's Yves Missi (21) tries to breakup a pass intended for Kansas's K.J. Adams Jr. (24) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Waco, Texas.

Waco, Texas — Chalk up another road loss for a Kansas squad that has become all too familiar with them this season.

Just days after head coach Bill Self called Kevin McCullar Jr.’s status for the remainder of the season into question, McCullar returned to the Jayhawks’ starting lineup after missing five of the last eight games due to injury, and gave KU an offensive spark with a co-team-high 20 points.

But he was about the only player providing that sort of spark during Baylor’s 13-2 second-half run, which turned a back-and-forth game into a victory for the Bears. They avenged their previous loss to KU in hard-fought fashion, taking down the Jayhawks 82-74 Saturday afternoon at Foster Pavilion.

“We just needed to get stops,” point guard Dajuan Harris Jr. said. “You can’t let them go on runs like that at their home court. They’re a very good team. So we just got to get better this week coming up before we play K-State, get better on our defense, keep that intensity up.”

Elmarko Jackson hit a pair of 3s and a pull-up jumper to spark a late response that got his team as close as 70-64 with 4:41 to go, and then Harris made it just 75-71 inside of two minutes. But RayJ Dennis sank a pair of late floaters to protect Baylor’s advantage.

“Ten-foot runners are not exactly the easiest shots to shoot,” Self said. “They made some plays and we didn’t answer with those same plays, but I actually thought it was a pretty well-played game. I didn’t think that our defense the second half was near as good as the first half, but I’m leaving out of here not encouraged but less discouraged than what I’ve probably been some of our other losses.”

No. 7 KU shot 55.2% on the day but it wasn’t sufficient, as Yves Missi (17 points, five rebounds), Jayden Nunn (18 points) and Dennis (19 points, 10 assists) supplied more than enough offense for No. 15 Baylor.

Harris continued a strong run of form with 12 points and nine assists, and Hunter Dickinson had one of his own best recent offensive games with 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting. McCullar, though, took center stage on offense for quite a bit of the game.

“I don’t think he had much pain,” Self said. “Obviously his explosiveness and rhythm’s a little bit off, but I thought he did great considering. He had two blowouts on layups that would have certainly been two more baskets, but I thought he did very well.”

KU took an early lead when KJ Adams completed back-to-back lobs to Dickinson against a passive 1-3-1 zone from the Bears. The Jayhawks led 12-7 before Kansas’ ill-fated four-man substitution and Baylor’s switch to man allowed the Bears to tie it up by the under-12 timeout.

With KU and Baylor tied at 16 and the Jayhawks riding with another bench-heavy lineup, Parker Braun blocked an inside shot by Missi, but Missi got his own rebound and finished a three-point play through a foul by Braun. Moments later, Missi spun around him on his way to the basket to put the Bears up 23-18 and force a timeout by Self; Braun hobbled off the court, bent down to hold his foot and then went to the locker room during the break, but returned to the bench soon after.

The Jayhawks responded with a quick run to take a lead on a floater by Harris, but Ja’Kobe Walter came around a screen to a hit a corner 3 and restore Baylor’s advantage.

After trailing by as many as seven points, KU used a 10-2 run to take the lead at 34-33 on back-to-back buckets inside by Harris. However, Dennis put the Bears up 35-34 with 28 seconds left on a late-clock floater, and in an increasingly familiar occurrence of late, the Jayhawks were out of sorts on their final possession of the first half.

McCullar came alive for two early scores as the Jayhawks jumped ahead 40-37 and forced a timeout by Scott Drew, after which Nunn promptly tied the game with a 3-pointer.

Jalen Bridges hit a contested one from the corner not long after as BU elevated its advantage from beyond the arc to 6-for-12 over KU’s 1-for-5, and the Bears soon went up by eight points for the first time thanks to four fast-break points and yet another 3 by Nunn.

“We definitely got to guard the 3-ball better,” McCullar said. “We know that as a team. Today we let a couple guys get going, see open looks, and got some easy shots. Definitely got to limit those and learn from it.”

The hot stretch ballooned into a 13-point lead for Baylor with just 8:36 remaining after a string of fouls by the Jayhawks.

“I think Dennis and Nunn — I don’t know exactly how the points went — went nuts, and then Missi killed us on the short roll a couple of times in which we didn’t guard it at all,” Self said of Baylor’s late run. “And then we had a couple of really bad offensive possessions — cross-court passes which lead to runouts.”

Spelling a struggling Johnny Furphy, Jackson made a pair of 3s and a pull-up jumper to give KU a chance. Jamari McDowell was off the mark on one jump shot that would have cut the deficit back to two possessions before Harris successfully made it a six-point game with less than five to go.

The Jayhawks trailed by five again with 35 seconds left after Dickinson hit a rare 3.

“I thought we put ourself in a position where we put some game pressure on at least, but we had a makeshift lineup out there and stuff,” Self said. “The guys fought hard, they did a good job, Baylor was just better.”

KU, which fell to 9-7 in conference play and thus exceeded its high-water mark for league losses under Self, will return to Lawrence to host Kansas State for senior night Tuesday at 8 p.m.

“Our goal hasn’t changed at all: Just trying to win the next game that we can line up and get ready to compete for,” McCullar said.

Box score


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