LAWRENCE — The ball was bouncing toward the sideline, a little orange sphere destined for the lap of Kansas fan Mark Brandmeyer.
Perry Ellis had knocked it out of bounds. Baylor ball. Kansas led by seven points with 11:30 left.
And then Wayne Selden started running. One step, then two. Then a kamikaze dive over a row of KU boosters sitting in the front row. Over a table. Over a bottle of coke and water. Over a pair of young kids in blue T-shirts.
“Just got to get the ball,” Selden would say. “There’s no second thoughts about it.”
In one motion, Selden went headfirst into the stands, cuffing the ball with one hand and flinging it back to center Joel Embiid under the basket.
Embiid finished the play as Selden disappeared into a deluge of fans in the third row. And Brandmeyer, who had taken a rather meaty leg to the face, popped up in his seat, trying to figure out what had just happened.
“What an impressive player he is,” Brandmeyer would say.
“Just the eyes in the back of my head,” Selden said, smiling. “I didn’t see. I just went for the ball and just threw it back in there.”
It was so impressive, so too good to be true, that it was hard to fathom how Selden had made the play. And then they showed the replay, his right foot nearly six inches out of bounds. Well, it still counted.
“Maybe he deserved it,” Baylor guard Brady Heslip said. “Because that was great hustle.”
Sometimes you go to a basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse and No. 8 Kansas takes out Baylor 78-68 on Big Monday to move to 5-0 in the Big 12. That’s what happened on Monday night. That sort of thing has happened before.
But sometimes you show up, sit front row, and take a leg to the face. And Selden makes the type of hustle play that nobody inside Allen Fieldhouse can ever remember seeing.
Two weeks ago, who could have envisioned this? Two weeks ago, Kansas was 9-4, sliding down the national rankings after a 4-4 stretch in November and December. Two weeks ago, the Jayhawks weren’t finding ways to win. Two weeks ago, Kansas coach Bill Self kept imploring his team to play with more passion.
“We came into the Big 12 with a new mindset,” Selden said. “A new season.”
Here they are, a perfect 5-0 in the Big 12 for the third straight year, freight-training toward a 10th straight Big 12 title. In most respects, this was a Kansas team that didn’t play its best on Monday night. In other words, it’s exactly the type of game that Self loves winning.
Freshman Andrew Wiggins, held to a season-low three-points on Saturday against Oklahoma State, responded with 17 points and seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Perry Ellis added 18 points on six-of-eight shooting. And the Jayhawks would hit 26 of 29 from the free-throw line.
“Tonight wasn’t our best performance,” Self said. “But a lot of times you can miss free throws and lose. And sometimes you can play poorly and make free throws and win.”
Two weeks ago, Kansas was dogged by questions. Two weeks later, the Jayhawks became the first team to win four consecutive games against ranked teams since North Carolina in 1997-98.
“I think it’s a nice accomplishment,” Self said, but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just the way the schedule fell.”
Self always said that the pieces were there. They just didn’t quite fit yet. The talent was there, Self would say, they just needed to find better ways to tap into it.
But then came Big 12 Conference play, and a road victory at Oklahoma. And of course, you know what happened next. Four games. Four ranked teams. Four victories.
Some of the growth, of course, has been easy to see. Embiid has grown into one of the best post players in the country. Junior Naadir Tharpe has provided a steady hand at point guard.
Baylor, of course, has made a habit of making Kansas sweat a little bit in recent years. Last year, it was an 81-58 blitzing of KU in the Big 12 season finale in Waco. On Monday, it was Heslip drilling four first-half three-pointers as the Bears hit seven of their first eight from the outside.
But then Wiggins started guarding Heslip, and the shots stopped falling. And Selden went flying into the stands.
Nearly 30 minutes after the game, inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room, Self caught a glimpse of the play.
“Ooh, it may have been out of bounds,” Self said, looking at a television screen in the distance. “From this angle it looked good to me.”