KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas and Baylor have spent most of the season ranked among the country’s top 10 teams. Still, even though they’ve remained close in the polls, the Jayhawks and Bears couldn’t have been farther apart on the court.
Kansas whipped Baylor by 18 points in January. A month later they humiliated the Bears by 14 points on their home floor.
Despite the lopsided scores, KU guard Tyshawn Taylor vows his squad won’t be looking past the Bears when the teams meet for a third time Friday in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.
“They’ve got way too much talent,” Taylor said, “for us to come out and sleep on them.”
That was obvious Thursday, when Baylor demolished Kansas State in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 82-74 score indicated. Perry Jones III scored a career-high 31 points for the Bears, showing glimpses of why he’s projected as an NBA lottery pick.
Jones had 18 points in Baylor’s setback against Kansas in Lawrence on Jan. 18 but scored just five points in the loss in Waco on Feb. 8. The NBA scouts in attendance Friday will certainly be interested to see how Jones fares in this third matchup against Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson, a national player of the year candidate who is also projected as a lottery pick.
Jones’ teammates hope the aggression he showed in Thursday’s win over Kansas State carries over into the game against the Jayhawks. The 6-foot-11 sophomore scored from all areas of the court and didn’t hesitate to drive and mix it up down low. It was a nice look for Jones following a regular season when he was often described as passive and soft.
Also, at times this season, Baylor hasn’t done enough to get Jones the ball. Bears coach Scott Drew admitted as much Thursday.
“That’s my fault,” he said.
It will be interesting to see what kind of defensive strategy Baylor uses to try to stop Kansas today. In both of the regular-season meetings the Jayhawks’ picked apart the Bears’ trademark zone. In last month’s tilt in Waco, Kansas went on a 32-4 run to put the game out of reach. Seven-foot Kansas center Jeff Withey had 25 points.
“We played two of our better games of the year against them,” coach Bill Self said, “and they probably look back and say they didn’t play two of their better games against us.”
The Bears said mental toughness will be important if they want to keep it close against the Jayhawks in Round 3.
“A couple of times we lost our head a little bit,” Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson said. “We got rattled when they made their runs. We’ve got to stayed poised and be mature about the situation. We’ve got to go out there and execute.”
Teammate Quincy Acy agreed.
“We can’t lay down,” Acy said. “If we get punched in the face we’ve got to get back up and keep fighting.”
Win or lose, the Bears know that today’s game will help prepare them for the NCAA tournament. Most bracketologists are predicting that Baylor will be a No. 3 seed.
“If you’re a competitor, you want to play the best,” forward Quincy Miller said. “And everyone says they’re the best.”
Missouri vs. Texas: Much like Baylor, Texas will be looking to avenge a pair of early-season losses when it faces Missouri in Friday’s other Big 12 semifinal. The Longhorns lost to the Tigers 84-73 in Columbia and 67-66 in Austin.
In the second defeat, it appeared as if Myck Kabongo was hacked by Tigers guard Matt Pressey as he attempted a game-winning shot from the baseline at the buzzer. The whistle never came, though, and Missouri escaped with the win.
Kabongo took the loss hard, teammate J’Covan Brown said.
“He was mad about missing the shot,” Brown said. “The guy fouled him. But the refs don’t call everything. He was upset but he moved on.”
Kabongo turned in an excellent defensive effort on Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson (10 points on 4-of-13 shooting) in Texas’ 71-65 quarterfinal victory over the Cyclones Thursday. The win made the Longhorns feel much better about their NCAA tournament hopes. Texas, which went 9-9 in the Big 12, entered the game on the bubble.
Longhorns coach Rick Barnes knows his team is in for a tough task tonight against Missouri, which is coached by his former assistant, Frank Haith. The fifth-ranked Tigers are 28-4 overall and shoot 50.3 percent from the field, a mark that ranks third in the nation.
“They’re a very explosive offensive team,” Barnes said. “They can hurt you in a lot of different ways. We’re going to have to defend them.”
Texas will obviously need a big game from Brown, who leads the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game. Brown’s three-point play with 36 seconds remaining Thursday broke a 65-65 tie and propelled Texas to victory.
“I love big games,” Brown said. “I like the challenge.”
He’ll certainly get one Friday night.