WACO, Texas — Maybe it was the afterglow of a big victory, but Kansas coach Bill Self rolled out some eye-opening superlatives Wednesday.
Jeff Withey played “about as good a game offensively as we’ve had by a big man.” That includes players like lottery draft pick Cole Aldrich.
The Jayhawks’ streak of 228 games without consecutive losses, “of all the things these teams have accomplished that may be one of the more impressive ones.”
Yes, thumping sixth-ranked Baylor 68-54 on Wednesday, a few days after the Jayhawks suffered a crushing defeat at Missouri, had Self in a gushing mood.
Why not? The outcome returned the Jayhawks (19-5, 9-2 Big 12) to first place, where they reside with Missouri.
Self was a little worried about this one. He didn’t like the Jayhawks’ practices leading into Baylor; the way thing started Wednesday his fears seemed real.
“We were excited about this game,” Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. “We knew that we needed it,so we just turned it up a little bit.”
But not before falling behind 19-9 after 10 minutes. Self and the KU staff were furious at the team’s lack of energy and gave the Jayhawks an earful.
The immediate response was offensive rebound baskets by Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey, and Kansas was on its way.
Withey’s stickback started a personal run of eight straight points and by halftime the junior 7-footer had scored 17, establishing a career best, and Kansas led by three.
Also big in that stretch: a pair of corner three-pointers by Conner Teahan. He was firing over the soft 2-3 zone, and Withey was finding open space in the paint.
“The way we were matched up left me open sometimes,” Withey said.
Yes, it did. One game after going scoreless for the first time this season, and before 23 NBA scouts, Withey finished with 25 points.
Oddly enough, much of the production happened after Robinson went to the bench with his second foul with 6½ minutes left in the first half. Kansas played through Withey, and he rarely missed, from the field and the free-throw line.
“He plays like an All-American against us,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
There were errors in the scouting report, Drew said. Asked to clarify, Drew said the Bears didn’t follow scouting instructions on defense.
Kansas took full advantage. Baylor scored the first basket of the second half, and KU scored the next 14 points. Less than eight minutes into the second half, the Jayhawks owned a 22-point lead.
By now others were getting involved. Taylor had popped in a couple of threes on his way to 19 points. Robinson was asserting himself in the paint and finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
And everybody was playing defense. In what may be the most bizarre note of the game, Baylor’s talented post man Perry Jones III threw down Pierre Jackson’s lob pass to open the game and enliven the sold out Ferrell Center.
Jones, Baylor’s scoring leader, would take eight more shots and miss them all.
On the night, the Bears shot a miserable 37 percent, and frustrations mounted with every misfire.
Early in the second half, freshman Quincy Miller delivered an elbow to Withey during a free-throw rebound situation and was called for a flagrant foul. He didn’t return.
At one point, the home crowd booed the Bears during a timeout. Later there were mock cheers for a free throw as points became scarce.
Drew sat dumbfounded on the bench, watching his team (21-3, 8-3) blow an opportunity to own a share of first place.
“For about 13 minutes I didn’t think we competed,” Drew said.
Kansas had just experienced something similar blowing an eight-point lead with less than three minutes remaining at Missouri. Win that one, and have Wednesday unfold like it did and the Jayhawks would be looking down at the rest of the conference. As it is, Kansas got a split, climbed back into a first-place tie and impressed the coach.
“I’ll be honest, they showed me something,” Self said. “I thought we may pout up and feel sorry for ourselves, but we didn’t. We showed some toughness.”