It wasn’t pretty, and at times it was hard to watch, but the Jayhawks were once again able to squeak out a close victory Wednesday night after defeating the #21 Baylor Bears 56-55 in Waco. Like many of Kansas’ previous games this season, the Jayhawks’ match-up against Baylor was a tale of two-halves, as the Jayhawks struggled to attack Baylor’s multiple zone defenses deployed by Head Coach Scott Drew in the first half leading to a 22-18 halftime advantage for the bears.
The Bears’ swarming defense frustrated the Jayhawks throughout the first half, as KU only shot 28 percent in the opening half however, the Jayhawks’ own defense kept them in the game as they also held the Bears to a 28 percent field goal percentage during the first half. The biggest difference between the Bears and the Jayhawks in the first half was the Bears’ three point shooting, as a plethora of open looks led to the Bears shooting 50 percent from beyond the arc, led by senior point guard Kenny Chery who finished the night with a game-high 25 points.
The Jayhawks finally started to figure out the Bears’ defense in the second half, as KU was able to penetrate Baylor’s zone defense and get open looks instead of forcing shots like they did in the first half. Despite shooting a scorching 78 percent in the second half, the Jayhawks were never quite able to pull away from the Bears, as there were five lead changes in the second half alone and the Jayhawks needed some late game heroics from Brannen Greene and Wayne Selden to come out of the Ferrell Center with the win.
With just over two and a half minutes remaining in the game, the score was tied 49-49 until Wayne Selden cashed in
a three to give the Jayhawks a three point lead, which was cut to two on the next Baylor possession after a Rico Gathers offensive rebound and layup. Selden was right back at it the next possession however, as he sliced through the Baylor defense and banked in a running layup to give the Jayhawks a three point lead once again with a minute and 18 seconds remaining in the game. Baylor once again responded with a bucket of their own and then exchanged possessions with Kansas until Frank Mason missed a three pointer with 24 seconds left, leaving Baylor with almost a certainty that they would have the last shot of the game, down 53-54. However, while Chery was inbounding the ball after a timeout with only eleven seconds remaining, freshman Kelly Oubre made what may have been the play of the game as he went for the steal on the inbounds pass and ended up deflecting the ball off of Chery thus giving the ball back to Kansas.
KU then inbounded the ball to Greene, who had 12 points off the bench, and the sophomore wing sank two clutch free-throws after being fouled to put the Jayhawks up 56-53 with seven seconds left. Kansas quickly fouled Chery after the following inbounds pass and the Baylor guard sank both free throws to once again cut the Jayhawks lead back to one. After another sequence of inbounding the ball and immediately fouling, Frank Mason found himself at the free throw line to try and put the Jayhawks back on top by three. Mason missed his first free throw attempt however, and the Bears quickly got the ball up court to a streaking Chery who was all alone. Instead of attempting a game winning shot from deep, the senior guard continued to sprint towards the basket, but dnever got a shot off before time expired. The game was over and for the 24th year in a row, the Jayhawks won their opening game of conference play.
Freshman point guard Devonte Graham will not miss anymore time than originally expected because of the big toe injury on his right foot which he sustained December 12 in a victory over Georgetown. Graham, who has sat on the sideline for all of the Jayhawks’ past six games, could be back as early as Saturday for Kansas’ match-up with Texas Tech, but will most likely not return to the Jayhawks lineup until next Tuesday when the Jayhawks will take on Oklahoma State.
The Jayhawks picked up their first commitment from the class of 2015 earlier today, as power forward Carlton Bragg made his commitment to the Jayhawks official during a ceremony in his high school gym in front of friends and family. The Cleveland native was rated as the number 18 prospect in the nation by ESPN and the 14th best prospect in the nation by Rivals. The 6-10 forward out of Villa Angela St. Joseph High School had over 20 scholarship offers, but his decision ultimately came down to three schools in Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois. Bragg said he had a great time while visiting Kansas during their annual “Late Night in the Phog” event to begin the season and also cited the family environment at Kansas as to why he ultimately ended up committing to Bill Self and the Jayhawks
TALK ABOUT SECOND HALF (especially final 5 minutes) then touch on Graham’s injury update and Bragg’s decision.