It was the kind of momentum swing that might have crushed the Kansas men’s basketball team in an earlier Big 12 road game.
Baylor’s Rico Gathers received a perfectly thrown, full-court pass from Ish Wainright with 1.9 seconds left in the first half. He caught the ball in the left corner, cocked it behind his head and launched a high-arching shot over KU’s Landen Lucas from three-point range.
It was Gathers’ first three-point attempt in 135 games and 836 field goal attempts. And somehow it went in, giving Baylor a three-point halftime lead.
Yet, the chance play wasn’t enough to derail No. 2 Kansas, as it made all the plays late in a 66-60 victory over 19th-ranked Baylor on Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.
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“I feel like it’s to the point now where we’re a battle-tested team,” KU guard Wayne Selden said. “We’ve been through a lot as a group together, and I don’t really think we get rattled as much. I don’t think we get rattled at all actually.”
The rainbow ended a first half of defensive breakdowns for KU, and coach Bill Self in that moment turned his attention to Lucas, waiting three times for Lucas to catch up so he could chew him out with a security officer standing between them.
“He just let him catch it and shoot it,” Self said afterward. “I couldn’t believe it.”
There were times in the first half when Self called to switch ball screens, and his players would immediately hedge instead. At one point, Self seemed to run out of ways to show his frustration on the sideline, running his fingers through his hair on one possession before turning his palms to the sky on the next.
The Jayhawks responded after halftime, though.
Baylor made 29 percent of its field goals after the break, and though KU had its own issues offensively, it was able to score when it needed to late.
Lucas made one important play, grabbing a Selden missed three with 3:02 left and putting in the stick-back to give KU a 57-55 lead.
Selden did most of the rest. He grabbed two offensive rebounds in the final 3 minutes after getting only two in his previous four games combined. He finished an alley-oop out of a timeout to put KU up three with 1:26 to go, then followed with a driving layup at the 29-second mark to extend the advantage to 62-57.
Self admitted to chewing out both Lucas and Selden for their poor efforts at halftime.
“I was struggling all night, just trying to find a way to impact the game. It was rebounding,” Selden said. “That was big. Me and Landen knew we had to get to the glass.”
It led to a joyous locker room, with KU’s players discussing how far they’d come.
“We were like, ‘A month ago, we would have lost this game,’ ” KU guard Devonte’ Graham said. “It just shows how we’ve grown as a team and how we keep progressing.”
KU won its fourth straight road game after dropping their previous three before that by double figures. The Jayhawks also picked up their seventh straight victory over the Bears (20-8, 9-6 Big 12).
More importantly, KU upped its lead in the Big 12 standings to two games with three to play.
The Jayhawks (24-4, 12-3) can clinch at least a share of their 12th straight Big 12 regular-season title with a home victory over Texas Tech on Saturday.
“I certainly hope our fans appreciate what these kids have done the last month,” Self said. “What is that, eight (wins) in a row, against unbelievable competition?
“When we didn’t play well, when we did play well, when we made free throws, when we didn’t, when we rebounded, when we didn’t … it’s still been guys toughing it out.”