Go ahead and crown Kansas the Big 12 champion for the 13th straight year. It’s academic now.
With a chance to pull within one game of the Big 12 lead, No. 4 Baylor watched a six-point lead slip away in the final three minutes as No. 3 Kansas walked out of a sold-out Ferrell Center with a 67-65 win on Saturday afternoon.
Following their second win over the Bears this season, the Jayhawks (24-3, 12-2) took a three-game lead in the Big 12 race with four left to play. The Bears (22-5, 9-5) dropped their second straight game this week following an 84-78 loss to Texas Tech on Monday in Lubbock.
Now Baylor coach Scott Drew is setting new goals.
“We all want a conference championship, but I think everybody on our team definitely would rather have an NCAA Final Four or championship more,” Drew said. “So that’s what we’ve got to gear for and get ready for and look forward to that opportunity.”
The Bears grabbed a 65-59 lead when King McClure nailed a pair of free throws with 3:34 remaining. But with 10,021 fans raising the decibel level at the Ferrell Center, it all went downhill for the Bears from that point.
Kansas freshman phenom Josh Jackson scored on a drive to the basket and then took a pass from Frank Mason for a slam to cut Baylor’s lead to 65-63 with 2:38 remaining.
Devonte Graham stole Johnathan Motley’s pass and hit a pair of free throws after Manu Lecomte’s foul to tie the game with 2:16 remaining.
After Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil missed a shot at the rim, Landen Lucas rebounded a missed Graham 3-point attempt and drew a foul from Motley. He hit both free throws with 11.5 seconds remaining to give the Jayhawks a 67-65 edge.
Following a time out with 8.6 seconds remaining, Baylor hoped to get the ball to Motley inside to send the game into overtime. But a limping Lecomte was heavily guarded by Jackson and Mason on the perimeter and missed a forced shot as Kansas sealed its 10th straight win over the Bears.
“I know I had Landen (Lucas) on the top side and then I think Josh (Jackson) was in front too,” Motley said. “There was no way we could get it. It’s real disappointing, especially when you kind of have them on the ropes.”
The Jayhawks were confident they could pull off the comeback against the Bears after rallying from a 14-point deficit with three minutes remaining against West Virginia for an 84-80 overtime win on Monday.
“I think we just showed toughness and leadership as far as the older guys and I think the younger guys did a great job of following and executing down the stretch,” Mason said. “We were great on the last possession. I think everyone was locked in to what coach wanted us to do on the defensive end. We showed strong help and wanted to contest everything. I think we did a good job with making them settle.”
Mason led the Jayhawks with 23 points and eight assists while Jackson finished with 16 points and four blocked shots. Like Kansas’ 73-68 win over the Bears on Feb. 1 in Lawrence, the Jayhawks held a big advantage at the free throw line. Kansas hit 16 of 20 compared to Baylor’s nine of 11.
“They do an unbelievable job in drawing contact,” Drew said. “We worked on it all week, and we’ll keep working on it. Hopefully that will help us when we get in the NCAA tournament, where we keep getting better at getting to the free throw line by drawing contact. That will be a point of emphasis for us.”
Motley led the Bears with 19 points and nine rebounds but hit just eight of 21 shots and committed six turnovers. Lecomte finished with 16 points while Lual-Acuil scored 11 points but picked up just two rebounds.
“It definitely hurts,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey. “As Coach Drew said, it comes down to execution in late-game situations. They did a better job of that. Kansas is a traditionally good defensive team, but I think we got some looks we wanted.”
The Bears built a 35-23 lead late in the first half before Mason and Jackson nailed 3-pointers to make the halftime score 35-29.
Kansas hit four of its first five shots in the second half to cut Baylor’s lead to 41-38 and pulled into a 47-47 tie when Lagerald Vick scored on a putback with 11:23 remaining. The Jayhawks completed an 11-0 run when Svi Mykhailiuk nailed a 3-pointer with 10:15 to play.
But the Bears regained their edge with a 9-0 run that was highlighted by Ish Wainright’s 3-pointer and Lecomte’s drive for a basket. Lual-Acuil gave the Bears a 56-52 lead with a pair of free throws with 6:59 remaining.
The Bears continued to look like they would break their losing streak against the Jayhawks but couldn’t close it out.
“I thought our guys really competed, put ourselves in position to win, and we fully expected to win,” Drew said. “They made one more play than us, that’s Big 12 basketball. I think right now, we’re pretty upset, as you would imagine. The good thing is tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity.”