There’s always an electric vibe in the air when the Kansas Jayhawks come to town.
The Ferrell Center is usually packed and Baylor is always stoked to play a national powerhouse that has won 14 straight Big 12 titles. The atmosphere will be no different Saturday when the Bears host the No. 7 Jayhawks at 3 p.m.
The Bears can reel off back to back wins over the Jayhawks for the first time in school history following an 80-64 thrashing last February at the Ferrell Center. It snapped Baylor’s 11-game losing streak against the Jayhawks that included a tight 70-67 loss earlier last season in Lawrence.
“I definitely love it when the Ferrell is jumping,” said Baylor senior guard King McClure. “But we can’t rely on the crowd to give us energy. If we do that we’re not going to be a good team. So I think that whoever shows up, whether it’s 10,000 or 6,000, we’ve got to rely on ourselves to bring the energy from the jump.”
If the Bears (9-5, 1-1) play like they did in Tuesday’s 73-70 home win over No. 20 Iowa State, they’ll give themselves a good shot to beat the Jayhawks (13-2, 2-1).
The Cyclones were coming off a 77-60 blowout of the Jayhawks last Saturday in Ames. But the Bears made a series of clutch plays in the final minutes to beat a strong Iowa State team as they nailed 17 of 20 free throws and committed just 10 turnovers.
“We made tough plays,” McClure said. “We pride ourselves on being a tough team. That’s what we did, we made tough plays down the stretch to win the game and really wanted it and we showed it.”
Piling up 10 straight wins to open the season, the Jayhawks were ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in Associated Press poll before an 80-76 loss to Arizona State on Dec. 22 dropped them to No. 5.
After opening the Big 12 with a 70-63 win over Oklahoma, the Jayhawks lost 7-0 center Udoka Azubuike for the season with a wrist injury. Azubuike was a major factor as he averaged 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 70.5 percent from the field.
Now the Jayhawks put a much smaller lineup on the floor that features 6-9 forward Dedric Lawson and guards Lagerald Vick, Devon Dotson, Quentin Grimes and Marcus Garrett. Except for the 6-2 Dotson, the other three starting guards stand 6-5, so there is some rebounding potential in the group.
“No question they’re a different team, four guards and a wing,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “They’re going to run some similar plays and they’re going to do some things different. At the end of the day, one thing they really do a good job of is they’re really good in transition. We’ve got to do a good job with stopping that.”
Containing Lawson will be a big key since he ranks second in the Big 12 with a 19.5 scoring average and is the league’s top rebounder with 11.3 per game. The redshirt junior transfer from Memphis is the only player in the Big 12 averaging a double-double.
Lawson is coming off a monster game in Kansas’ 77-68 win over TCU on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse as he amassed 31 points, 14 rebounds and three steals.
“One of our coaches described him that he has a (former Baylor forward) T.J. Maston touch,” Drew said. “The ball just seems to find the bucket, and he’s really good at putting it in the hole. He has a nice, soft touch, and because of that guys like that are really hard to guard because they can score in a variety of ways.”
Vick is averaging 14.6 points while shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range. But the Jayhawks don’t have a point guard who can match former stars Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. No Kansas point guard is ranked in the top 15 in Big 12 assists as Dotson leads the team with 2.9 per game.
The Bears hope to get another strong game from senior point guard Makai Mason, who scored a season-high 25 points against Iowa State and ranks fourth in the Big 12 with a 15.1 scoring average while averaging a team-high three assists.
Slowed by an ankle injury that caused him to miss the first three games, Mason has looked stronger and more agile as the season has progressed.
“Makai has gotten healthier and healthier and that’s allowed him to do more and more,” Drew said. “At the same time, I think because he’s been able to practice and get a rhythm and consistency, that’s not only helped his game but has allowed everyone to get used to playing with him. So we’ve just got to keep praying that he and everyone else stays healthy.”
Sophomore forward Tristan Clark continues to be a force in the paint as he collected 16 points against the Cyclones and is averaging 14.6 for the season while shooting 73.7 percent from the field. Baylor also got a lift from guard Devonte Bandoo off the bench in the last game as he drained three of four 3-pointers and scored 13 points in 11 minutes.
Drew likes the cohesiveness his team has been showing after the inconsistency the Bears displayed earlier in the season.
“If you look from December on we’ve been able to get some chemistry,” Drew said. “We’re taking better care of the basketball. Offensively, we’ve been much more efficient and I think we’re starting to learn from playing with each other as far as where each person is successful and where they like the ball passed to them and where they’re going to get it, and what they’re going to do when they do get it.”