Kansas - Baylor Rematch Looming

Bill Self calls KU's 75-65 victory at Baylor on Feb. 2 a pivotal win in the Jayhawks' march to the Big 12 championship.

Kansas held off a pesky and talented Bears' team who had cut KU's lead to 48-47 with 12:25 remaining in the game before KU regained command.

"I would say (that was) the biggest win we had in league play to get me thinking we could be pretty good," coach Self said. "(That) gave us as much confidence as anything."

Over a month later, KU (25-6) and Baylor (18-13) hook up again in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament at Ford Center in Oklahoma City at 11:30 a.m. (CST) Thursday. The Bears advanced to the second round after beating Nebraska, 65-49, on Wednesday. Senior guard Curtis Jerrells led four BU players in double figures, while senior forward Kevin Rogers also came up big with 10 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.

Baylor shot a sizzling 53.5 percent from the field while holding Nebraska to just 31.5 percent shooting, including a dismal 24.1 percent in the second half. The Bears also dominated the boards with a 43-18 advantage.

"I think we really came out focused," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "We did a tremendous job defensively. Besides turnovers, (we) executed well shooting 54 percent from the field. So I'm very pleased with the first game performance and I think our guys are very focused and excited to play."

KU will certainly be excited to begin the Big 12 Tournament after clinching an outright Big 12 title with its 83-73 victory over Texas last Saturday in Allen Fieldhouse. That was KU's nation-leading 41st straight home victory.

Junior point guard Sherron Collins, who led Kansas with 21 points and seven assist, admitted there was some pressure this season at home with continuing the long winning streak.

Now, it's a whole new postseason.

"We're just going to play," Collins said. "Now, we can just play free. It's all the fun part now."

This game marks the first meeting between KU and Baylor in the Big 12 Championship. KU leads the overall series 14-1 and has won seven straight games over the Bears. But Self knows this won't be easy with Baylor fighting for its NCAA Tournament lives.

The Bears are looking to turn the season around after losing 10 of their last 12 conference games before their win over Nebraska on Wednesday.

"I think Baylor can beat anybody," Self said. "Their record isn't what they envisioned before the year, but they have good enough scorers that they can beat anybody. This is their NCAA Tournament, I'm sure they're putting all their eggs in this basket. They will be juiced and ready to play."

The Jayhawks have much respect for Baylor, especially after KU's hard-fought victory over the Bears in Waco.

"They're fast," sophomore center Cole Aldrich said. "They got some real talented guards."

Jerrells, who had an off night during the teams' least meeting (four points on 0 of 7 shooting), leads the attack with 16.3 points per game and 150 assists. He's also tied with senior guard Henry Dugat for team lead with 47 steals. Sophomore guard LaceDarius Dunn is second in scoring at 15.2 points per game and paces the Bears with 83 threes. Rogers is the frontcourt star at 12 points and a team-high 7.8 boards per game. He's also second with 28 blocks.

Junior guard Tweety Carter is fourth in scoring with 11.1 points per game and ranks second with 84 assists. He's followed by Dugat (10.2 ppg and No. 2 on team with 65 treys), freshman forward Quincy Ace (5.9 ppg and team-best 32 blocks), 7-0 junior center Josh Lomers (3.2 ppg), freshman forward Anthony Jones (3.1 ppg), 7-1 senior center Mamadou Diene (1.6 ppg) and freshman forward Fred Ellis (1.6 ppg).

Baylor is primed for its rematch with Kansas.

"Obviously, Kansas is a great team," Rogers said. "Everybody said they were young and inexperienced. But they have two veteran leaders in Sherron and Cole. That's the heart and soul of the team. So we definitely have to come in with a different level of focus. When we played them at our place, we played them very close. They came out and got some stops and made some buckets. But this is a new thing. We are just going to come out and get a victory."

After just winning its fifth straight Big 12 regular-season title, KU still has plenty of incentive to play well against Baylor and during the entire Big 12 Tournament. Kansas has won the tourney the last three years.

"The last two years the motivation was that we were supposed to win it," Collins said. "We were the favorite and that's what favorites are supposed to do. This year our motivation is that no one expects us to win. We probably won't be the favorite and we just won the conference."

Indeed, Oklahoma is deemed the favorite with a healthy Blake Griffin in the lineup. Griffin was on the sidelines with a concussion when KU beat OU at Norman on Feb. 23.

The Jayhawks would love another shot at Oklahoma, but they're just currently focused on Baylor.

Survive and advance.

"It can be one and done," Aldrich said. "You got to really play your best ball."

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