By Greg DeVries
Baylor men’s basketball stunned the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the semifinals of the Big 12 Championship tournament, 81-72. Every Baylor starter scored in double figures, but sophomore Perry Jones III led the Bears with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“We’ve been successful against Kansas before in spurts, then they would have a spurt that we wouldn’t be able to answer,” head coach Scott Drew said. “Tonight, we knew they were going to make a run. When they took the lead, I was really pleased with the poise our guys had … [We] really did a great job in reestablishing and getting us the lead back.”
Baylor will advance to the Big 12 championship game for the second time in the history of the conference. The team’s previous finals appearance resulted in a loss to Missouri in 2009.
Baylor and Kansas traded blows throughout the first half. The Bears ended the first half on a 14-8 run in the last 5:55, opening the score to 43-35.
Defense was strong for both teams. Neither team shot 45 percent from the field, and both teams had six turnovers and 10 fouls.
Baylor’s interior defense held firm against Big 12 Player of the Year Thomas Robinson. Robinson was held to five points on 2 of 4 shooting. He threw the ball away three times and only recorded one rebound in 14 minutes of play.
The Bears elected to start with senior Quincy Acy matched up against Robinson and Jones III on Jayhawk center Jeff Withey. After substitutions, freshman Quincy Miller guarded the 7-feet-tall Withey and Jones III or Acy would match up with Robinson.
“No matter who you guard, you’re in for a tough assignment,” Drew said. “I thought Quincy Miller was extremely efficient tonight; in 18 minutes, 13 [points] and 8 [rebounds]. So, I thought he did a great job.”
Baylor stretched their lead to 13 to open the second half. Kansas fought back and took a two-point lead with 10 minutes to go in the game. This run was due in large part to Baylor missing shots and Kansas recording five blocks in the first ten minutes of the second half.
Jones III started the half 0-5, but a block by Acy on Withey led to a wide-open transition dunk for Jones III. This swung the momentum in the other direction and gave Baylor a three-point lead with just over 6 minutes to play.
“They’re a great team. When they go on runs, it’s hard to stop them,” Jones III said. “Just trying to get rebounds, trying to get second-chance points, just trying to keep them out of the paint as much as possible because they’re one of the best in the country in the paint.”
With about 2 minutes left, sophomore Brady Heslip hit two big back-to-back 3-pointers. With 54.3 seconds left, Acy stepped to the line and hit two free throws, giving Baylor a 77-70 lead. Jackson followed that with two more free throws with 38.3 seconds left. Walton added two more from the charity stripe and finished with 12 points.
After a meaningless Kansas layup, the Bears held the ball to end the game.
“We’re all more focused and playing as a team. Once we’re all clicking like that…we’re hard to beat,” Jackson said. “[We] are trying to get a Big 12 championship.”
Baylor finished the game shooting just 40 percent from the field on 24 made baskets. The Jayhawks bettered the Bears, shooting nearly 43 percent, but Kansas shot just over 15 percent from the arc on two made 3-pointers. Baylor shot over 47 percent from 3-point land on nine made baskets.
The Bears will take on Missouri at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the Sprint Center. Acy and the team expect a hostile environment.
“We’re ready for an away game. We’re in their state, so it will be tough. But that’s the same with all the team’s we’ve played so far” Acy said.