Well, that was sure ugly. The Bears came out flat and intimidated from the start and were easily dispatched by the Kansas Jayhawks 61-44. Baylor came out passively and it all started on the first missed shot. Well, missed by be strong. It was more blocked, a recurring theme that the bears had to fight through. Cory Jefferson got the ball on a great pass from fellow post-mate Isaiah Austin and went up strong. Too bad a flock of Jayhawks swooped in and sent his dunk attempt the other direction. From that point on, Jefferson would disappear on the offensive side of the court, except for 5 much weaker attempts at scoring.
After that failure of a start, the Bears would start off shooting just 6-28 in the first half. Things would get marginally better in the second as they shot 7-28. In the end, making 23.2% of your shots, and having your starting backcourt go scoreless in the second half is not the way to pull of a Top 5 upset on the road. Heck, it wasn't even a recipe for making it a competitive game.
So, what happened to the Bears Monday night in Lawrence? First off, the interior defense of the Jayhawks is the best in the country. Jeff Withey is an elite shot blocker and with their length all across the floor, Kansas racked up 12 blocks on the night. Personally, I counted at least 3 more, and those don't even include the dozen or so shots that were altered or challenged to make it much more difficult than it should have been. You just have to look at the shots Pierre Jackson took in the second half to see the effect of the great interior defense of KU.
He took 3 stop and pop jumpers at the free throw line, a weak point of his game this year as his speed is making this a very difficult shot to master, as his momentum is carrying him forward and he is trying to adjust on the fly. This causes the ball to usually go long, which it did on the first two attempts. Jackson over adjusted for the third, which meekly grazed the iron. Against other teams, those were penetrations deeper into the lane for either a floater (still a work in progress for Pierre this year, but something he showed flashes of being able to do better last year) or a shot at the rim. Pierre would finish 2-12 shooting for the game; a terrible shooting night and one that never allowed Baylor have any semblance of a consistent offense.
The other area the Bears had issues in was finishing strong around the rim. The only player to make more than 2 field goals, Isaiah Austin, was one of the few bright spots for the Bears last night. However his 6-15 from the field could have been much better if he could improve his ability to finish through contact. Austin avoids drawing contact and fouls, partly due to his upper body strength but maybe also do to his below average foul shooting. He tries to make a tough shot rather than simply get fouled and go to the line.
Another area that the Bears need to get much better at in the post is simply making a quicker decision. Too many times, Austin or Jefferson would get the ball, look around, dribble a few times and then do some type of move. That works against lower level teams, but against a team like Kansas, it is a recipe for disaster. With the slow developing post moves, the Bears would stop the ball and usually stop moving around it as well. This would allow double teams to happen, or at least time for a help defender to come over and challenge the ball. Withey is a good post defender, but he is an elite help defender. He is very quick and agile and covers ground in bunches to get over and challenge shots.
Baylor would also react to the double teams incorrectly, as too many times an interior pass was made in just the wrong way. Austin in particular has to get better at not doing bounce passes to moving post players in traffic. He did this 3 times, trying to make a perfect pass rather than a good one to a cutting post player.
The Bears offense looked stagnant and uninspired last night. We only ended up with 6 assists, which you would expect on 13 made field goals, but most of our misses were not assisted. The Bears went to too many one-on-one plays with minimal ball movement. AJ Walton in particular struggled to pass the ball effectively. He would over penetrate, dribble into a corner, or pass it to the wrong player. A cause for the lack of ball movement also could have been our continued struggle to have effective screens off the ball. With players just running around with no ability to separate from their defender, screens are an integral part of an offensive attack. This is an area where we truly miss Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III, two good screeners who are now in the NBA.
The other bright spot was the play and effort of Rico Gathers. One might say he plays with the strength and finesse of a bull. He was just 2-7 from the field, and missed 2 or 3 wide open layups, due to as Fran Franschilla says as "not laying up the ball with your eyes." That pretty much means, he shoots without looking and just hopes it goes in. Alongside his 6 points, he did have a great 13 rebounds and played some excellent post defense. The youngster still has a lot of refining to do on the offensive end, but he is our best off the ball screener and our best rebounder.
Watching the game, with the Bears shooting under 25% all night, there were moments that I was surprised to see the score was still within reach. Kansas never got the lead to over 20, though it felt like it never got under that point. Baylor rebounded the ball well (just -5 on rebounds, a great end result considering the Bears had 43 missed shots), and played some good defense against a very efficient Kansas offense. The Jayhawks shot just 37.7% from the field themselves. The Bears interior defense was much better than last year, as they held Withey to just 3-10 shooting for 8 points.
There is still a long way to go for the Bears to compete against a team like Kansas this year. Baylor will have to get stronger finishing at the rim, better at ball and man movement in the offense, better at screening and getting guys open, and finally just better at shooting. Will they make the necessary adjustments in time, or this is destined to be a pretty good team instead of the really good team it could be.