LAWRENCE, Kan. — If this is the second best the Big 12 has to offer (and that’s up for debate), then it’s high time we put a bow on this bad boy, once and for all, and wrap that puppy up tight.
Here you go, Bill Self. League Title No. 9. You’re going to need a bigger shelf, buddy.
Then again, maybe we’re giving too much credit. Too much credit to Baylor, anyway.
“(Monday night) was very physical,” Bears center Isaiah Austin said after his men were rolled, 61-44, by Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. “It’s the Big 12 — the most physical conference out there. That’s what we expected when we came here.”
Here’s what they didn’t expect: A bloodletting.
Playing in their fourth game in nine days — and they didn’t exactly look like world-beaters in the other three tilts — the No. 4 Jayhawks finally let it all hang out for the home folks.
Kansas recorded as many blocks (13) as the Bears had field goals (13) while forcing 16 turnovers and limiting their guests, who came in ranked second in the league in field-goal percentage (47.2 percent) to a rancid 23.2 clip from the floor.
“Yeah, that didn’t work too well, did it?” Baylor coach Scott Drew deadpanned after his Bears, the consensus preseason No. 2 in the Big 12, suffered their first league loss (3-1). “That surprised me, that they had as many blocks (as) they did. That’s a credit to them and their players.”
Baylor missed 22 of its 28 first-half shots, which is fairly remarkable in its awfulness. But here’s the even more amazing stat: Of those 22 misfires, 10 were actually the result of Kansas blocks.
“We didn’t play our game today,” Austin said. “We played their game.”
And not particularly well, either. When Kansas (15-1, 3-0 Big 12) draws Baylor, you expect Patriots-Falcons, an up-tempo scorefest with shots and bodies flying all over the place. Monday night gave us Ravens-Steelers instead, a grind-it-out-tilt that was about as graceful as a Sherman tank. It was the fewest points allowed by the Jayhawks in a conference game since they’d clamped Nebraska to 39 on Feb. 17, 2007.
“It wasn’t a very artistic game, by any means,” Self, Kansas’ esteemed coach, said after the Jayhawks extended their home-court win streak to 32 straight contests.
“But this was a game where we probably needed to ugly it up a little bit. Because if it’s a totally free-flowing game, they’ve got enough athletes where they could do some things to really hurt us.”
As it turned out, the only real hurt — and it was a literal hurt — came with roughly 2:44 left in the game, with the hosts up 61-42 and piling more salt on Drew’s open wound.
The Jayhawks’ standout wing guard, Ben McLemore, was trying to create space between himself and the Bears’ A.J. Walton when he cut to his left, made a sudden stop as if to plant, and apparently rolled his right ankle.
“My heart dropped,” Kansas point guard Elijah Johnson said of McLemore, who redshirted last season because of academics. “I just don’t feel like he deserves to be hurt right now or cheated out of playing. He’s been cheated out of playing enough.”
The 6-foot-5 St. Louis native went down hard, writhing in pain for several minutes. Within a span of about a minute, McLemore had gone from bringing The Phog to its feet — on an alley-oop dunk at the 3:34 mark of the second half — to hushing the place completely.
“He’s fine,” Self said afterward, then swiftly corrected himself. “He’s not fine. He twisted his ankle. If we were going to practice (Tuesday), I wouldn’t let him practice… I can’t make predictions on how many days he’s going to be out. We certainly hope that it’s not more than two or three.”
McLemore, who dropped 17 on Baylor and averages a team-best 16.4 points per contest, is officially day-to-day with an ankle sprain. The Jayhawks next play Saturday at slumping Texas (0-3 Big 12, 8-8 overall), so there’s time to get the kid right.
In fact, some would argue that it might not kill Kansas, big-picture, to even rest McLemore (or limit him, at the least) for that little skirmish down in Austin, if push actually did come to shove. After the Longhorns, the Jayhawks visit rival Kansas State (2-0, 13-2) on Jan. 22 and entertain Oklahoma (2-0, 11-3) on Jan. 26, two squads that want desperately to keep the Jayhawks within shouting distance in the standings.