KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If there’s to be a third Border War this season, it will have to be in the Final Four.
Kansas fell to Baylor 81-72 in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals on Friday, pushing the Bears into today’s championship game.
The Jayhawks (27-6) now await their NCAA Tournament seeding with Sunday’s announcement.
Did the loss damage Kansas’ top seed chances? Or will the Jayhawks be a top seed in the Midwest or West Regions.
Those awaiting a Kansas-Missouri final are disappointed. The teams played two marvelous games during the regular-season with both winning on their home floors in comeback fashion.
But KU coach Bill Self ’s only concern about the idea of not playing Missouri was missing a chance at a third straight tournament trophy.
“I didn’t come over here thinking about the rivalry,” Self said.
The game was a series of Baylor runs and Kansas counter runs. But at no time did the Jayhawks assert themselves as they did in the two regular season victories by a combined 32 points.
“We never got the stops we needed,” Jayhawks guard Tyshawn Taylor said.
Especially when it came to Brady Heslip. On successive possessions in the final minutes, Heslip buried three pointers to give Baylor leads of 70-64 and 73-66.
“We left the shooter a couple of times and he made some big shots,” Taylor said. “I mean, when the game is that close and in that situation, we can’t leave the best shooter open on the court.”
Kansas dug itself a hole early in the second half, came all the way back, but couldn’t hold on.
Baylor scored the first six points of the second half to take a 49-35 lead, and the advantage was 13 after Quincy Acy scored inside with 16:32 remaining.
But Baylor coach Scott Drew called a timeout at that point, and Kansas took advantage of the pause.
Taylor led a comeback that included a banked in three-pointer, and when Jeff Withey completed a three-point play with 11:11 remaining Kansas had the game tied at 56-56.
KU then took its first lead since the first half when Thomas Robinson powered into Acy, who went down. No call, layup and KU led.
The Kansas majority in Sprint Center was juiced. KU had made its move and now would sprint to the finish.
But the Bears (27-6) retook the lead on Heslip’s three-pointer after an offensive rebound, and the Bears rebuilt a five-point lead.
This was a different response from Baylor, one Drew has been waiting to see throughout the Big 12 season.
“I thought this night we really grew up,” Drew said. “This year they’d made runs against us that we didn’t answer.
“Tonight, the crowd was going, and Kansas was going.”
But the Bears got the stops, and now the Jayhawks will seek answers as thye head to the postseason off their first loss in a Big 12 Tournament game at Sprint Center. Kansas had won 10 straight, including championships in 2008, 2010 and 2011 and opened the 2012 event with a victory over Texas A&M.
Self saw problems from the outset.
“We let them get comfortable early,” Self said. “That’s not a good sign if you’re playing a really good team.
“And even though we didn’t play particularly well, we took a lead and when we had a chance to have some good possessions we just didn’t get it done.”
One concern was perimeter shooting. Kansas made 2 of 13 from behind the arc, and one of those was the Taylor bank. But Self was more concerned about the shots that Baylor made.
Taylor said he was looking forward to a day off, but he shouldn’t count on it.
“I’m not sure Ty’s going to get his wish on the day off,” Self said. “We gotta guard. We don’t guard. Let’s just tell it like it is. We don’t guard. This is a team that has to make others play poorly.”