Whoever is in the business of altering cliches needs to change the one about life’s certainties because Kansas basketball winning the Big 12 title every season feels more inevitable than death or taxes.
The No. 2 Jayhawks took another step toward their 12th consecutive conference championship Tuesday with a 66-60 victory over the No. 19 Baylor Bears at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas. They are now 12-3 in the league and hold a two-game lead over No. 14 West Virginia with only three contests remaining.
Frank Mason III led the way with 19 points, four rebounds and three assists, while Perry Ellis chipped in 15 points down low. Kansas gave up 20 offensive rebounds but managed to hold Baylor to a lackluster 36.1 percent shooting from the field.
Jason King of Bleacher Report praised the Jayhawks' overall defensive effort in the aftermath:
Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports had an apt comparison in what looks like another championship season for Kansas:
While Baylor struggled on the offensive side, it did receive 17 points from Al Freeman behind 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range.
The Bears took a 36-33 lead into the locker rooms after Rico Gathers drilled a turnaround three-pointer at the first-half buzzer. C.J. Moore of Bleacher Report noted it was Gathers' first three-point attempt of his career, and Baylor Basketball shared the unlikely play:
While Gathers gave the Bears some momentum at the end of the half, Baylor also struggled to keep Ellis and the Kansas shooters in check. Ellis scored 11 points and hit one of six three-pointers for the Jayhawks in the opening 20 minutes, and Evan Riggs of the University Daily Kansan thought Baylor would be better off changing its defense as a result:
Baylor stayed in the zone and kept its three-point lead in the opening minutes of the second half thanks to dominance on the offensive glass. Matt Scott of 247Sports put Kansas' struggles on the glass into statistical perspective:
Baylor maintained a 47-44 lead at the under-12-minute timeout, and Riggs had a suggestion for Kansas head coach Bill Self, seeing as how Wayne Selden had two points and three turnovers at the time:
The Jayhawks battled back and took the lead after a Devonte' Graham three-pointer with 8:49 left, but they turned the ball over multiple times on shot-clock violations and watched the Bears retake the lead. Scott realized Kansas' offensive struggles kept it from pulling away from Baylor in the second half:
The two teams continued to trade leads and found themselves tied at 55 with just more than three minutes remaining. However, Landen Lucas scored to give the Jayhawks a 57-55 lead and grabbed a defensive rebound on Baylor's ensuing possession, which inspired this from Riggs:
From there, Selden elevated for an alley-oop finish with 1:29 left to give Kansas a 60-57 lead and drove into the lane and finished with touch at the rim to extend the advantage to 62-57 with 30 seconds remaining. It was a critical stretch for someone who struggled for the majority of the game, and Kansas Basketball passed along the dunk:
Selden finished with only six points, but his final four were arguably the most important of the entire game.
The Jayhawks iced the 66-60 victory away at the free-throw line and on the defensive end. They now have the Big 12 title squarely in their grasp.
Despite its position in the Big 12 driver's seat, Kansas faces a difficult closing stretch. Next up is a home game Saturday against unranked Texas Tech before a daunting finish at No. 25 Texas and against No. 17 Iowa State.
The Jayhawks are two games clear of West Virginia and Oklahoma in loss column in the Big 12 standings with only those three games remaining. They lost the first matchup to the Cyclones, but they are riding an eight-game winning streak since that Jan. 25 matchup and appear primed to win at least two of the final three to clinch the outright Big 12 title and likely earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
As for Baylor, it is no longer a threat to win the outright Big 12 championship following Tuesday's loss. However, it has a golden opportunity to make a statement to the selection committee before the NCAA tournament.
It faces TCU on Saturday and then finishes at No. 3 Oklahoma and against No. 14 West Virginia. The Bears lost to the latter two teams the first time around this season and can avenge those defeats and climb the seed line before the Big Dance.
Baylor coach Scott Drew discussed the loss in the aftermath, per ESPN.com: “I was proud of how we competed and played for about 36 minutes, and then I wish we could do that last four minutes over again. I don't think we executed as well as we'd like. We didn't rebound as well as we'd like down the stretch.”
Drew did note his team showed improvement from the first meeting with Kansas (a 102-74 loss) and said “we don’t take home any moral victories, but we’re headed in the right direction,” per David Smoak of ESPN-Central Texas.
As for Kansas, Selden talked about his showing, per ESPN.com: “I was struggling all night, just trying to find a way to impact the game, and it was rebounding. Me and Landen, we had to get to the glass, so I just tried to crash the board, give us extra possessions.”
Selden was clutch down the stretch despite those early struggles and put the late charge into perspective, per Kansas Basketball: “We don’t really get rattled.”
Since the Jayhawks don’t seem to get rattled, they are in position to win a 12th straight Big 12 regular-season championship. A victory at home Saturday against Texas Tech would clinch at least a share of the title, and Self said, “It would be nice to get a share of it in front of our fans. These guys have worked really hard,” per Kansas Basketball.
Lucas echoed a similar sentiment, per Kansas Basketball: “It's exciting. I'm looking forward to playing in front of our fans.”
They will probably be celebrating in front of their fans once again after the game.