If recent history means anything, Saturday’s Kansas-Baylor basketball game figures to be decided late in regulation, maybe overtime.
“We have played a lot of close games,” KU coach Bill Self said of his No. 3-ranked Jayhawks (23-3, 11-2 Big 12), whose last five conference contests have been decided by five points or less, including two that extended to OT.
Nine of the Jayhawks’ 13 league games have been decided by seven points or less heading into the noon contest at Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
“In conference or postseason, you will play more close games,” Self said. His squad had three nonconference games decided by six points or less, while the other 10 were double-digit victories.
“We’ve been fortunate we’ve won a lot of possessions in the last three minutes, which usually play out to be the difference in the game,” Self said.
The Jayhawks overcame a six-point halftime deficit to No. 4-ranked Baylor (22-4, 9-4) 73-68 on Feb. 1 at Allen Fieldhouse.
Nobody would be surprised if the rematch is just as close. KU’s last three wins over Baylor in the Jayhawks’ current nine-game winning streak between the teams have been by six, four and five points.
“At the end of the day we want to win. That’s the goal,” KU senior Landen Lucas said.
The Jayhawks on Monday night erased a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes and defeated West Virginia 84-80 in overtime. The Jayhawks have also won games during which they trailed Kentucky by 12 points, Oklahoma State by 11 and Oklahoma by nine.
“If we can learn from these games and take something from them, that’s great,” Lucas said. “It’s stressful and not ideally what we want. It’d be nice to get a couple easy wins. It’s also really good for us to have these learning processes and show we can come back from big deficits.”
What’s the key to late-game success?
“When it’s the last couple minutes,” Lucas said, “you need to hold it together and worry about fatigue at another time.”
KU would welcome any kind of victory Saturday against Baylor, a team led by forward Johnathan Motley. The 6-foot-10, 230 pound junior from Houston scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the first KU-BU meeting but managed just two points the second half. BU guard Manu Lecomte and forward Terry Maston had 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Josh Jackson scored 23 points, while Frank Mason 19 for KU.
“We just tried to make sure he didn’t catch the ball in areas that are easy to make quick moves and score,” Lucas said of denying Motley the second half in Lawrence. He also credited KU’s guards for helping out.
“Maybe our traps were a little better,” Self said of the second half in which KU also played some zone. “He (Motley) is such an unselfish kid, unselfish player. If he gets a bad touch, he becomes a passer immediately. The first half we didn’t put him in position to be a passer as much.”
Baylor coach Scott Drew said Motley, who hit 7 of 11 shots, played well in the prior meeting.
“When you’ve got two (defenders) on you,” Drew said, “you’ve done your job. Now you’ve got to get it to someone else. Hopefully 4-on-3 you can make plays. We didn’t make enough of those. We need to try to find ways to allow him to be able to be in 1-on-1 situations and when the double team comes hopefully we can take advantage of those situations.”
Baylor needs a win Saturday to slow KU’s pursuit of a 13th straight regular-season league title. A BU victory would slice KU’s two-game lead to just one with four to play. A KU victory would give the Jayhawks a three-game lead with four to play.
“I think at the beginning of the year, every team has the same goal — that is to win conference,” Drew said. “Kansas has done something that is remarkable, something that most people wouldn’t think would be done with today’s one-and-dones and transfer rates, to be able to consistently win the conference like they have.
“Each and every year is a new year. Everybody is focused on being the team that year to reach their goal of winning a conference championship. I know Kansas has tied a couple times with several teams.”
Texas has tied KU for the crown twice, Kansas State and Oklahoma once during KU’s current 12-year run of winning or sharing the regular-season title.
“Instead of looking at it as a negative and criticizing the other nine schools and saying they are just not as good, I’d compliment Kansas and say at the end of the day they’ve been able to come through and make plays when they needed to and avoid losing streaks, injuries, team chemistry, whatever would allow them not to win a conference championship,” Drew said.
“I want to give them credit where credit is due, but I also know why the league is ranked so high the last few years is because of 1 through 10 and not just 1.”
If KU wins Saturday, it could wrap up at least a share of the title with a win at home Wednesday versus TCU. A loss would change the scenario completely.
“If we take care of business Saturday we’d be in great position to win league,” KU senior guard Mason said. “We want to get better every day, come to practice prepared to work hard, focus on the game plan so we can go down there and execute and put us in position to win 13 straight.”
Kansas at Baylor
- When: noon Saturday
- Where: Ferrell Center, Waco, Texas
- Records: KU 23-3, 11-2 Big 12; BU 22-4, 9-4
- Radio: 1240-AM, 98.7-FM
- TV: KWCH
Kansas (23-3, 11-2): The Jayhawks have played in three overtime games (1-2 record) for the first time since 2012-13 when KU went 2-1 in OT.… KU, which hit 33 of 44 free throws in Monday’s 84-80 overtime win over West Virginia, has made 70.2 percent of its free throws in Big 12 play.… Frank Mason is tied with Wayne Selden for 10th on KU’s all-time three-point field goals list (162).
Baylor (22-4, 9-4): Junior guard Al Freeman (9.4 ppg) has missed the last three games while suspended for violating team policy, but has practiced this week and could play Saturday.… BU leads the league in scoring defense (62.2 ppg), rebound margin (plus-7.7) and blocked shots (5.0).… Baylor is 5-2 vs. AP Top 25-ranked teams and 3-2 vs. AP Top 10 teams this season.… Scott Drew is 3-20 versus Kansas.
RPIs as of Friday: KU 3, BU 1