The Kansas Jayhawks experienced the lowest lows and the highest highs of streakiness and shot making on Saturday in their 87-71 victory over the ninth-ranked Baylor Bears.
In the first half, the fifth-ranked Jayhawks struggled mightily from the field while their opponents seemingly couldn’t miss. KU made just one of its first 11 three-point attempts while Baylor knocked down nine of their first 14. Plus, Baylor made multiple contested shots as Kansas players struggled to hit even unchallenged layups.
Following a four-point play by Baylor freshman Keyonte George with just 3:30 left in the first half, the Bears led the Jayhawks by 17.
That free throw on that back end of that play came after a media timeout, and while the scoreboard looked bleak at best, that stoppage was an important regrouping moment for the Jayhawks.
“We just gained some composure,” junior forward Jalen Wilson said. “Obviously that wasn’t the way we wanted to start off … We’re never going to quit, and that’s one thing we preached in the timeout.”
KU chiseled away at the monumental margin, trimming Baylor’s lead to just 13 at halftime.
Kansas coach Bill Self said the Jayhawks’ energy was lacking in the first half, the opposite of how it played out for the Bears. Immediately after the break, that script flipped.
The Jayhawks scored the first 10 points of the second half, including six in just 1:11 of game time. Shots that fell for the Bears early suddenly were rimming out, while KU’s re-energized defense and transition offense started an avalanche that Baylor couldn’t withstand.
After Baylor took its 17-point lead, it took just 9:01 of game time for Kansas to surge ahead. What was once a laugher favoring the visitors swung violently back toward the hosts, who are both no stranger to huge comebacks and major momentum swings at home.
“I’ll never think we’re counted out, especially in the Fieldhouse,” Wilson said.
Wilson led the Jayhawks in scoring with 21 points in the win, but it was far from an efficient game for the All-American candidate. He went just 6-of-16 from the field and missed all five of his three-point attempts, and he had an especially slow start to the game, missing his first six shots. His frustration grew to the point where he ripped off his shooter sleeve and tossed it toward the scorer’s table after blowing an open layup.
“I just had to see something different,” Wilson said.
Wilson finally started to hit some shots in the second half, including a couple in transition, which was an integral part of the KU comeback and reaffirmed what’s been a key theme of his superstar season.
“His will is as good as anybody we’ve had here in a long time,” Self said. “He’s a winner.”
Junior guard Dajuan Harris didn’t lead the Jayhawks in scoring, but he was arguably the most integral part of their 55-point second half on both ends of the floor. Harris only attempted one shot in the first half, but went 6-of-7 after the break, including two three pointers on as many attempts, and ended up with 14 points. He also doled out nine assists and was lauded by Self for his defensive performance.
“[Harris] was the player of the game,” Self said.
Harris and his teammates have mentioned multiple times, including on Saturday, that his aggressiveness is vital for KU’s offense. That was fleshed out in the win against Baylor, his fourth game in a row with at least seven field goal attempts. Unsurprisingly, it was also the Jayhawks’ fourth consecutive win. In five losses this season, Harris is averaging just 4.6 shots per game.
Two other KU players reached double digits in scoring, with freshman guard Gradey Dick pouring in 16 points while sophomore forward K.J. Adams had 14. Senior guard Kevin McCullar only had nine points in the win but was also praised by Self for his defensive performance, especially after injuring his ankle Tuesday night against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
KU shot 50.9% for the game and 28.6% from three, but the final numbers were carried by a white-hot second half. In the final 20 minutes, Kansas made 63.3% of its shots overall and 50% of its threes.
“That was the equivalent of the Miami Elite Eight second half,” Self said, calling back to the Jayhawks’ blowout win over the Miami Hurricanes in last season’s regional finals.
For as good as Baylor was in the first half, led by their star-studded trio of guards including George, senior Adam Flagler and junior L.J. Cryer, it was equally as bad in the second half. The Bears shot just 35.7% in the second and just 9.1% (1-of-11) from three. Interestingly, that was the same three-point rate, down to the exact number of attempts, as Kansas posted in the first half.
“Obviously we wanted to start fast [in the second half], and we just never started,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Flagler and George both had 20-point games in the losing effort, with the former scoring a game-high 22 and the latter adding 20.
This was a must-have game for both programs in terms of the Big 12 race. With just four games left in the regular season, Kansas remains tied in first place with the Texas Longhorns, while Baylor is now one game back. Texas edged out the Oklahoma Sooners in overtime Saturday afternoon.
The Jayhawks have a quick turnaround ahead of their next game, a Big Monday contest in Fort Worth against the 22nd-ranked TCU Horned Frogs. TCU crushed Oklahoma State 100-75 this weekend, and already beat KU by a historic margin earlier this season.
“This gives us a lot of momentum for Monday,” Wilson said. “It’s another opportunity to get some payback on a team that got us in the past.”
Monday’s game is set for an 8:00 p.m. tip.
Click below to hear what Bill Self and the Jayhawks said about their 87-71 win over the Baylor Bears on Saturday.
For more reaction to the Kansas Jayhawks’ 87-71 win over the Baylor Bears, check out Mic’d Up with Jake and Fulton from noon-3:00 p.m., and 580 Sports Talk with Brendan and Dan from 3-6:00 p.m. Tuesday on 580 WIBW.