Kansas dumps Baylor, re-enters Big 12 race
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Chants of "over-rated!" echoed through a crazed Allen Fieldhouse with a little more than two minutes left on a night when No. 7 Kansas made the nation reconsider everything it thought it knew about the Big 12 Conference.
Before the Jayhawks' 92-74 victory Monday, No. 3 Baylor seemed poised to streak through its 18-game conference schedule as the class of the league behind the strength of a monstrous frontcourt that includes forwards Perry Jones III (6-foot-11), Quincy Miller (6-9) and Quincy Acy (6-7). Before Monday, the Jayhawks were thought to be vulnerable after non-conference losses to Kentucky, Duke and Davidson created questions about Kansas' depth.
And before Monday, Kansas senior guard Tyshawn Taylor was thought to be an erratic talent who many times hurt his team with loose ball control more than he helped -- someone to be scolded rather than praised.
But all three perceptions were swatted away -- at least temporarily -- in a rout that showed how explosive the Jayhawks can be when they feel threatened. Baylor faded after Kansas closed the first half with 13 straight points to take a 39-29 halftime lead. Jayhawks junior forward Thomas Robinson saluted the crowd with his right hand while walking off the court late in the second half with 27 points and his team up 18, those criticisms leading into Kansas' toughest conference test to date silenced long ago.
And Taylor, after scoring a game-high 28 points that tied his career-best set in a victory over Iowa State on Saturday, received a hug from freshman guard Naadir Tharpe before leaving the court a short time later with the roar inside the venerable arena still deafening.
"I think we made a big statement tonight," said Taylor, who finished 10-of-14 shooting from the floor. "I told my team going out with like 11 minutes left that we had to make a statement. I'm not saying people are sleeping on us and don't think we're good. … They didn't really know what we had or what we could do. I think the last few games, we showed them that we can compete and be the best team in this conference if we play the way we've been playing."
With the way Kansas played Monday, few teams could compete with the Jayhawks. They shot 57.4 percent from the floor, including 66.7 percent in the second half. They outrebounded the Bears and their vaunted big men by 15.
As a result, a matchup that was thought to produce one of the most exciting games of the early conference schedule instead produced little drama. There were three ties and four lead changes, and Baylor never came closer than nine points after the first timeout of the second half.
The environment seemed to overwhelm the not-ready-for-primetime Bears. Baylor junior guard A.J. Walton slapped hands with teammate sophomore guard Brady Heslip near midcourt before tipoff, and a decibel reading on the scoreboard above hovered near 113 -- about 19 points higher than the noise recorded at the Superdome during the BCS Championship Game between LSU and Alabama on Jan. 9.
What happened in the hours that followed showed Baylor has room to grow. The Bears must learn to carry the same confidence that allowed them to beat then-No. 18 Kansas State last Tuesday at Bramlage Coliseum and blast Oklahoma State by 41 points Saturday at the Ferrell Center into a raucous environment like Allen Fieldhouse. For them, there will be more difficult Big 12 road tests to come -- the hardest a trip to Columbia, Mo., on Feb. 11.
"I think Kansas is one of those teams probably early on they were good -- right now, they're even better," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I think the nation saw how tough they are. Again, that's what's great about this league. Night in and night out, you're going to face good teams. If you don't play well, and they play well -- you've got no chance."
And by playing as if they knew the Bears posed a threat to their Big 12 dominance, the Jayhawks gave Drew's team little chance to recover once their lead grew to 57-42 with 13:51 left in the second half.
Despite the loss, Baylor is trying to receive a taste of what Kansas has enjoyed the past 15 seasons. The Jayhawks represent consistency, having won at least a share of the past seven regular-season Big 12 titles. And since the Big 12's first season in 1997, they have claimed 11 regular-season crowns and eight conference tournament championships.
Entering Monday, there was a curiosity to see how far Baylor could go in its goal of unseating Kansas during a start that represented the best in program history. The Bears were one of the last three unbeaten teams in the nation, joining No. 1 Syracuse and No. 12 Murray State. Baylor was the fifth Big 12 team to start 15-0 or better and the third to accomplish the feat in the past three seasons.
Those results had some predicting an undefeated run through the Big 12 was possible if the Bears could pass their season's toughest road test and end the Jayhawks' 15-game home winning streak.
But Allen Fieldhouse energized the Jayhawks and helped them change the Big 12's outlook. After Taylor, Robinson and others left the floor following the decisive victory -- after the chants ended and Drew was left to wonder why his team fell so short on a night when the nation wondered how good the Bears could be -- it was Kansas back in the familiar role as the sole Big 12 leader.
"This was a nice win for us tonight," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Baylor is terrific -- they've got length, and they can score. We caught them on a night when maybe they weren't their best."
But Self's team was at its best. Because of it, a power has regained Big 12 control.