By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
The top two teams in the Big 12 conference will meet tonight in Lawrence, Kan., as the No. 2 Baylor Bears take on the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse.
Baylor will have its work cut out for it as the Jayhawks have won 50 consecutive games at home dating back to a 61-57 loss to San Diego State on Jan. 5, 2014.
Sophomore guard Jake Lindsey said the environment at Allen Fieldhouse will be challenging, but the team won’t be intimated by it.
“Every environment is unique. They have a lot of history there, obviously, with James Naismith and all the success they’ve had,” Lindsey said. “They love up it up there. You can tell by the turnout in the environment, but there’s tough environments everywhere you go, and it’s just a little bit different and unique.”
Both teams enter the game coming off big road wins on Saturday night. Baylor used a strong second-half performance from junior guard Manu Lecomte and a clutch three-pointer by Lindsey to knock off Ole Miss 78-75. Kansas, playing in a primetime matchup, also used an impressive second-half run to erase a double-digit lead in upsetting No. 4 Kentucky 79-73 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
Although the winner will take sole possession of first place in the conference standings, Baylor head coach Scott Drew doesn’t believe this game will have much to say about who wins the regular season championship.
“Playing Kansas doesn’t dictate who wins or loses the league because we could have lost to them the last five or six years both games and won the league if we had beaten everybody else,” Drew said. “That being said, it’s a great opportunity with a lot of national attention, Dick Vitale at the game, a lot of people watching the Big 12, especially with two teams playing well. In three games against them last year, the first one wasn’t good, the second two were good and hopefully we can give ourselves a chance to win up there.”
Drew also said that Baylor’s defense will be tested by Kansas’ offense and its ability to get down the floor in transition.
“Kansas has got a lot of experience in the backcourt obviously. More perimeter team than they’ve been in the past and because of that they’re always good in transition, but now they’re even better in transition,” Drew said. “Offensively, this might be their best team. They’re really potent. I know we’ve been good defensively. The best always wants to play the best. We’ve got the best conference defense and they have the best conference offense.”
Kansas has a balance of youthful athleticism and veteran leadership. The team runs through senior guard Frank Mason III. The senior averages a cool 19 points per game while shooting 51 percent both from the field and beyond the arc. Mason is joined in the backcourt by junior guard Devonte’ Graham. Graham averages a modest 13 points per game and is the Jayhawks’ key defender on the wing.
The Bears will counter with Lecomte, who is averaging 12 points per game in his first year in green and gold but has come up huge for the Bears in big moments, including the game-sealing three against Ole Miss.
This matchup will also see two John R. Wooden Midseason Top 25 players square off in junior forward Johnathan Motley for Baylor and freshman guard Josh Jackson of the Jayhawks.
Motley has been consistent for Drew all year. The junior is averaging 16 points per game but over his last four games is averaging 22 points per game. Jackson averages 15 a game but against ranked opponents is averaging nearly 19 points per game.
Senior guard Ishmail Wainright said that, everything else aside, the game is big for both programs and both are going to go and compete at a high level and try to get the win.
“We have the chance to do something that no other Baylor team has done. This is our big year,” Wainright said. “I love my team; they love theirs. Whether we’re number two or number three, it doesn’t matter. We have to take care of business.”
Baylor will try to end its eight-game losing streak to Kansas. The Bears have not beaten the Jayhawks since an 81-58 win on Mar. 9, 2013. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m and will air on ESPN2.