KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Bill Self was the first to admit that Kansas and Baylor set basketball back Friday night. In fact, the Jayhawks coach said the late Phog Allen and Henry Iba would have been rolling in their graves watching their ugly execution.
Then again, it was exactly what Self wanted to see.
“I think sometimes when it’s not very artistic, people say, ‘You didn’t play well,'” Self explained. “But if we played a pretty game with Baylor, they would have beat our butts.”
Instead, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks muddied things up enough to earn a 62-52 victory over the No. 16 Bears in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
Wayne Selden Jr. led the way with 20 points, and Perry Ellis returned from a right knee injury to add 11 as the top-seeded Jayhawks (26-7) cruised into Saturday night’s championship game for the 11th time. They’ll face the No. 13 Iowa State, the tournament’s second seed, which beat No. 15 Oklahoma 67-65 in the earlier semifinal.
Wearing a bulky brace on his knee, Ellis limped off late in the game. He never returned, but said afterward that he simply took a shot to his thigh and would be ready for the Cyclones.
“I could have put him back in late,” Self said, “but I thought we had the game.”
Indeed, they did.
Rico Gathers had 11 points and 13 rebounds, and Kenny Chery added 20 points for the fourth-seeded Bears (24-9), who should still feel quite secure heading into Selection Sunday.
With a school-record seven wins over ranked teams this season, the Bears are a near-lock to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large in back-to-back years for the first time.
“We didn’t take care of the ball well enough. Shooting obviously wasn’t good, wasn’t pretty. But the turnovers is the one that got us,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team coughed it up 17 times — one turnover fewer than the Jayhawks.
The Bears came in touting one of the best defenses in school history, a vexing 1-3-1 mashup of zones. But the simpler, man-to-man defense of Kansas was even more effective in the first half, holding the Bears to 5-for-25 shooting from the field as the Jayhawks built a 26-18 lead.
It was the Bears’ lowest-scoring half since they managed just 16 points over the first 20 minutes in a loss to Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA Tournament.
It took the Bears another 3 minutes in the second half before they finally scored another field goal, a layup by Lester Medford. Selden promptly answered with an and-one at the other end, pushing the Jayhawks’ lead to 35-20 and leaving a heavily-pro Kansas crowd roaring.
Baylor responded with its only real run of the game, getting within 41-35 and energizing a smaller bunch of green-clad fans. But the Jayhawks clamped down on defense one more time.
They forced turnovers on two of the next three possessions, Gathers missed a pair of foul shots and Baylor missed seven straight field goals. The scoring lull allowed the Jayhawks, driving to the basket almost at will, to crank out a 10-0 run that gave them control.
Kansas managed to put the game away from the foul line in the closing minutes, beating the Bears for the first time in three tries in the Big 12 tournament.
“We knew we hadn’t been playing defense to our capability the last few games,” Selden said. “We wanted to get out and pressure their guards and play with a lot of energy.”
PRINCE OR PAUPER
Baylor’s Taurean Prince was just 1 for 11 from the field and 0 for 7 from beyond the arc. He finished with two points in 22 minutes. “It happens to the best of us,” Chery said. “We weren’t making shots tonight and you can’t do nothing about it.”
ABOUT THE ARC
After going 0 for 8 in the quarterfinals against TCU, the Jayhawks hit their first two 3-pointers. Then, they made one of their next 10. “We were on fire from 3, because we made 3 — we were 3 for 12,” Self said, sarcastically. “That’s the best we’ve shot it in a while.”
Baylor: Gathers fouled out in the closing minutes. … The Bears finished 4 for 22 from the 3-point line. … Baylor’s largest lead was two points, the first time all season it has not led an opponent by at least six. … The Bears trailed at halftime for just the fifth time.
Kansas: Kelly Oubre Jr. had nine points, one night after scoring a career-high 25 against TCU. … The Jayhawks outrebounded Baylor for the first time in three games this season. … Kansas has won its last five against the Bears.
Baylor: waits for its NCAA Tournament seeding on Sunday.
Kansas: will play for the Big 12 Tournament title on Saturday night.
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