By Shehan Jeyarajah
This is how the entire season has felt for Baylor, isn’t it?
Baylor had all the opportunity in the world. They brought the lead down to three with 12:56 left in the game. They had three free throws to bring it to three again, all of which they missed. But at the end of the day, the Bears (14-8, 2-7) could not capitalize on their chances in a 69-52 loss to No. 8 Kansas (17-5, 8-1) at home.
Baylor started the game off in exciting fashion with a high-flying alley-oop to senior power forward Cory Jefferson, followed by a steal that led to a three from senior guard Brady Heslip. Kansas forward Perry Ellis scored six straight points to bring Kansas up to an 8-7, but a layup by sophomore center Isaiah Austin and another alley-oop by Jefferson put Baylor up 11-8.
The Baylor shooting cooled for a while and Kansas built a lead. However Heslip hit threes on three straight possessions to give Baylor a 22-21 lead with 6:34 left in the first half.
Ellis and junior point guard Naadir Thorpe kept the Jayhawks in the game through the first half. Tharpe nailed a three with under a minute left to give Kansas a 32-27 lead. Freshman phenom Andrew Wiggins got a steal and hit a buzzer-beating halfcourt heave to put Kansas up 35-27 at the half.
Heslip scored 12 points on four three-pointers in the first half to keep Baylor in the thick of things. Jefferson added eight, but no other Baylor player scored more than 5 points in the half. The Bears were outrebounded 24-12 in the half. Baylor was outshot 53.3 percent to 32.3 percent in the first half, including 47.1 to 36.4 percent from the three-point line.
Tharpe opened the second half with yet another three-pointer for Kansas. Baylor missed their first three shots of the half. Baylor’s first field goal did not fall until there was 16:54 left. The bucket cut the Kansas lead to 40-34. On the next two trips down the floor, Jefferson caught another alley-oop and Austin scored a layup to cut the lead to 42-38.
Wiggins took over from there. The freshman nailed a step-back three pointer and dunked the ball on his next trip down the floor. Tharpe found Wiggins cutting to the basket for an alley-oop on the next possession to put Kansas up 56-44 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Kansas held strong from there.
After nailing four three-pointers in the first half, Heslip didn’t make another shot. He finished with 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting from the field and 4-for-10 from long distance. Jefferson led the team in scoring with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting, but grabbed only a single rebound on the night.
“We’ve just got to get more production on the boards from Isaiah and Cory,” Gathers said. “Cory only had one rebound, and that’s not going to do it.”
Tharpe led Kansas with a career-high 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 4-for-6 from the three-point line. He also added five rebounds and four assists. Wiggins scored 14 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists. Ellis poured in 14 points and led the game with 10 rebounds. Superstar center Joel Embiid was held to five points on 1-for-7 from the field.
“When reading the scouting report, we tried to take away everyone’s strength,” Drew said. “That’s the sign of a good team, two of their best guys have an off night, and other guys are there to pick them up.”
Baylor shot only 29.1 percent from the field on the night. They struggled to only 23.1 percent from the field in the second half, wasting a defensive effort that held the Jayhawks to 38.5 percent from the field in the second half.
“They’re a really solid and fundamentally sound defensive team,” Heslip said. “Credit to them for playing good defense, but we didn’t hit enough shots to take advantage either.
With the loss, Baylor fell to 2-7 in conference play after starting so hot in non-conference. After winning 13 straight home games dating back to last season, Baylor has dropped four straight home games at the Ferrell Center to Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Kansas.
The Bears will look to turn their season around at 6 p.m. on Saturday against No. 21 Oklahoma in Norman. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.