Baylor put a historic winning streak on the line in late February against Kansas last season and saw it crumble against their chief Big 12 nemesis. Fast forward a season and the No. 2 Bears are experiencing deja vu after their undefeated run came to an end Saturday night in a 71-58 loss to the No. 17 Jayhawks at Phog Allen Fieldhouse that leaves Gonzaga as college basketball’s last undefeated team.
The Bears (18-1, 10-1 Big 12) got off to slow starts in both halves and never recovered in the second half against a Kansas team that dominated the boards and the paint. Jayhawks center David McCormack played a massive role in that equation, scoring 20 points in a redemptive effort following a poor outing in the first meeting won by Baylor last month.
Kansas (18-8, 12-6 Big 12) has now won six of its last seven games with only a nonconference game against UTEP on Thursday left on its schedule before postseason play begins. The Jayhawks entered the night as a projected No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm, but the victory is a feather in the cap for a program that endured some struggles this season.
The Bears will remain a projected No. 1 seed but will slip to the No. 3 overall spot with Michigan taking over the No. 2 overall spot in Palm’s projected bracket. The Wolverines improved to 18-1 overall and 13-1 in the Big Ten with a win over Indiana on Saturday as they have have won five straight since returning from a 23-day break between games earlier this month.
Baylor still appears to be searching for its rhythm after returning from a 21-day break with a narrow victory over a bad Iowa State team on Tuesday. The Bears’ struggles in that game turned out to be an accurate forecast of the issues they faced Saturday. Just like last season, when Baylor carried a 23-game winning streak into it second game with Kansas, the Jayhawks avoided a sweep and spoiled Baylor’s stretch of dominance.
Baylor fell behind 13-6 to begin the game and then allowed Kansas to begin the second half on a 10-3 run. In the first half, the Bears battled back to take a 30-26 lead at one point. They whittled their deficit to 45-42 at the 12:41 mark of the second half on a 4-point play from MaCio Teague but never got any closer. Unlike on Tuesday, when Baylor fell behind 32-15 against Iowa State, the Bears could not will their way to a victory. That was doubtlessly a reflection of the competition level, and it raises questions about how the Bears might fare in their final three games.
Still ahead for Baylor is games against West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, all of whom are well-positioned to earn NCAA Tournament bids. There isn’t an easy game in that stretch that Baylor can use to get things right before the postseason begins.
When Baylor and Kansas met for the first time this season on Jan. 18, McCormack came in averaging 20.3 points per game over his previous three outings in what constituted an offensive outburst for the mercurial junior. But when it came to square off with the Bears, McCormack’s hot streak ended as he scored just six points in a 77-69 Baylor victory.
He came for redemption in the first half of the rematch, racking up 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the opening frame to help put the Jayhawks ahead 33-30 halftime. Though he pulled down just three rebounds, McCormack helped Kansas dominate the game physically. Kansas outrebounded Baylor 48-28 and outscored the Bears 42-32 in the paint.
When Jared Butler hit a layup for his first points of the game with 10:14 left, it cut Baylor’s deficit to 52-47 and felt like the type of bucket that could get the Bears’ leading scorer going. Butler ultimately remained a non-factor, though, as he finished with a season-low five points. The 6-foot-3 guard entered averaging 20 points over Baylor’s last six games, dating back to his 30-point outburst in the January win over Kansas. With the Bears getting just five total points from their bench Saturday, there simply wasn’t enough firepower to overcome the scoring void that Butler left.