Last night's game was a perfect case study of the gap between a program at Kansas' level and one at Baylor's.
With 4 minutes to go, Al Freeman nailed a corner three to take a 55-53 lead. In the closing stretch following that shot, Baylor would turn the ball over twice and allow 4 offensive rebounds for 5 Jayhawk points. Kansas did not turn the ball over and did not allow Baylor any second chance opportunities. The ability to execute down the stretch of a tight game is often what separates the good from the great. That was what Baylor experienced last night.
That is not a total condemnation of Baylor, of course. Being a good team is good. Good teams win lots of games, provide plenty of excitement, and generate interest if sustained over the long haul. Sometimes good teams even beat great teams. All they need is a chance. The Bears gave themselves that chance, but Kansas was able to lock down its defense and coax Baylor into trying to force something to happen. Lester Medford fell into his bad habit of over dribbling in tough situations, and Taurean Prince couldn't find enough space to slither to the rim. On the other end, Wayne Selden, Devonte Graham, and Frank Mason kept the offense flowing up top. They moved, drove, and passed until Baylor's defense, which was excellent all game, cracked.
I am always loathe to place too much blame on coaches in a sport so deeply based in the moment to moment decision making of 18-22 year old young men, but Scott Drew's weaknesses were highlighted going up against Bill Self - a top 5 coach with a case for being the best in the country. In the final 4 minutes, Baylor's offensive plan looked to be to get the ball inside to Motley and let him either work Landen Lucas one-on-one or draw a double team and kick the ball out. When Kansas denied the initial play, Baylor's players didn't seem to have a clear plan for how to proceed except for Medford to get a high ball screen and try to make something happen. One of those plays turned into a long step-back two, and two others were forced passes that led to turnovers. Going to a Medford ball screen isn't the wrong play, per se, but having a backup plan that involved more than two players in the action, much in the way that Kansas' weave does, would likely be preferable. Kansas had doubled the post all game, so I understand what Drew saw and was trying to exploit. Running your crunch time offense through Motley, however, seems misguided.
Baylor had stretches of offense, however, that was closer to what you'd hope to see. Freeman and Ish Wainright were whirling around screens, flipping to screen the screener so Motley or Rico Gathers could get the ball near the rim, and attacking closing defenders off the dribble from the perimeter. Freeman finished the game with a team-leading 17 points thanks to 4 made threes, and Wainright had another all-around good contribution with 7 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 spectacular chase down block. When the offense was predicated on off-ball screens and movement to force the defense to move its feet, the Bears could drive into the paint and find open teammates. Unfortunately, Drew didn't feel confident in his team's ability to execute these longer, more complex plays when the game was on the line.
Where the Bears really struggled was scoring inside. They missed 21 of 32 shots in the paint, a place where they have been largely efficient, especially lately. Motley finished 3-10, Gathers 3-9, and Prince 4-13 (3-8 in the paint). Despite not having a stand out rim protector, Kansas is the Big XII's best two-point defense by percentage allowed. That is partly because Lucas is a big body that takes up space and partly because the perimeter players do an excellent job of digging down on help defense. Even so, had Baylor not been so helpless at scoring inside, this game could have been won.
It should also be said that Kansas, and particularly Mason, made some very difficult shots in the last 10 minutes. Mason hit a couple of floaters over Motley that you just have to live with, and Graham hit a well contested three. In a game as low scoring as this one, just a handful of tough shots falling makes a huge difference.
This was a frustrating loss, to be sure. No one likes losing close games at home, especially when so much is at stake in the standings. This is the sort of game Kansas and Self just know how to win, though, and Baylor still has opportunity to snag a couple of big wins and earn a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament.
I can't close this post, however, without showing some love for the play of the game. I present to you Threeco Gathers, long may he live.
Mere hours before, our own Connor Morris and I had this brief exchange:
@pckt_chng Huh, maybe that's the key. Rico's been out because he's been in a cocoon metamorphosing into Threeco Gathers.— Conner Morris (@ConnerSaurusRex) February 23, 2016
You can't make this stuff up, folks.
Better even than that three, though, was the celebratory moment to follow: