Heading into this game, Baylor was just 2-9 against the RPI top 25. Both of those wins were against Iowa State, a team the Bears seem to have a favorable matchup against.
In No. 22 Baylor’s 70-66 loss to No. 1 Kansas, things pretty much went to plan. The Bears were outshot, shot less free throws, were outrebounded and were virtually outclasses against a superior opponent.
However, the Bears made this game closer than it seemed to be with runs at the end of the first and second halves.
Kansas led Baylor 64-48 after a free throw by Jamari Traylor with 1:51 remaining in the game. From that point on, the Bears went on an improbable 18-6 run to close the game that brought the result of this game back into doubt.
Lester Medford hit a trio of 3-pointers, the only points he had against the Jayhawks over the stretch. Al Freeman added a three of his own and both Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers hit free throws. With just over five seconds left, Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham was at the free throw line, up only three points.
Graham bricked the first free throw to keep the Bears’ window open for another possession. Graham, a 73 percent free throw shooter, calmly nailed the next one to give KU a four-point lead and effectively end the game.
Gathers had a nice game with 13 points and nine rebounds in his final Big 12 game. Johnathan Motley added 11 points and seven rebounds after being limited with foul trouble. Al Freeman had 14 points on 12 shots.
However, Prince, Medford and Wainright all had poor showings against the top-ranked Jayhawks. Prince shot just 3-for-11 and missed all six of his 3-point attempts on Friday. Wainright shot just 2-for-7 and will end up on the wrong side of the Sports Center top 10 after getting dunked on by Wayne Selden.
Medford was exceptionally bad for the first 38 minutes of the game. He shot 3-for-10 from the field and turned the ball over several times. While the stat-sheet lists him at five turnovers, he was responsible for many more of the Bears’ 13 team turnovers. His play must change headed forward into March.
Perry Ellis scored 20 points for Kansas in just 25 minutes. Graham added 13 points, eight assists and four steals for the aggressive Jayhawk defense. Carlton Bragg was the only KU bench player to have a field goal, scoring 10 points.
Now, the Bears will be forced to sweat it out for Selection Sunday in two days to see where exactly they land in the NCAA tournament. However, it should be a lock that the Bears will qualify for a third straight tourney, the first time that’s happened in Baylor history.
While the loss was disappointing after the effort, Baylor looks like it has taken a step forward. The Bears had strong defensive performances in back-to-back games, even if Kansas eventually was able to pull away. If the Bears can keep this level of defense heading into the NCAA tournament, it is a game-changer. The Bears are already a balanced offense -- that makes them a complete team.
The NCAA tournament field will be announced at 5 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. Stay tuned to Bears Illustrated for the newest updates from Baylor basketball.