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Immaculate First Half Wasted in 87-71 Loss to Kansas

What high hopes we had

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Kansas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Headed into halftime, the No. 9 Baylor Bears (20-7, 9-5) held a 13 point lead 45-32. All but three of those points were scored by Adam Flagler (14 points at halftime), LJ Cryer (13) or Keyonte George (15). That trio was 8-13 from three and utterly dominated the opening twenty minutes. George threw down what is emphatically the nastiest dunk of the season so far:

Then the Bears pulled a reverse Toon Squad at halftime, losing all luster, momentum, and energy. The first half secret stuff ran out, and the No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks (22-5, 10-4) opened the half on a 20-4 run over just 6 minutes as they marched to a 55-26 second half and a final of 87-71.

To say this game encapsulated the two faces of the team is no exaggeration. When things were cooking, George was swaggering, Flagler and Cryer were playing pitch and catch for open threes in transition, the Bears looked like an unstoppable force. But then Kansas ratcheted up the physicality, pressed their defense beyond the three point line (a strategy that has, by the way, resulted in Baylor’s four major losses to Virginia, Marquette, Iowa State, and tonight), and took their time reversing the ball on offense. The two former adjustments essentially shut off the three-point line in the second half, and Baylor’s bigs couldn’t make Kansas pay — even Jalen Bridges (6 pts, 4 rebs) whiffed an open layup in the early second half that seemed to set the tenor for the rest of the game. Kansas’ offensive adjustment of reversing the ball was a patient approach that got Baylor’s guards just so slightly out of position, which allowed for driving and cutting lanes that the Jayhawks mercilessly exploited. Jalen Wilson (21 pts, 15 rebs) and Dajuan Harris (14 pts, 9 asts) were phenomenal in pushing the pace and breaking open Baylor’s defense.

Meanwhile, Baylor’s leading trio went ice cold, scoring a combined 15 points, going 1-8 from three and 6-19 overall. While there were a few instances of uncalled contact that Baylor fans would have liked to seen called, it was uninspired play as a team that undid the Bears. Flagler made an effort to lift the team with his driving ability. George attempted heroic, if ill-advised, jump shooting heroics. But there was no fluidity. Kansas bumped the Bears off path in every set with just enough craft and cunning to get away with it, and Baylor simply didn’t have the muscle to respond.

Was the first half still thrilling enough to evoke shrieks of excitement and awe? Yes.

Was the second half an utter embarrassment and teeth-grinding exercise in frustration? Absolutely.

So now the Bears sit alone in third place, Kansas and Texas tied at the top. Baylor still controls its fate with respect to the No. 6 Longhorns with next Saturday’s showdown in Waco, but Kansas now has to drop at least one game for the Bears to get a third straight share of the title. If the Jayhawks play the way they did in the second half this afternoon, that may not happen.

Stepping back, it’s no shame to lose in Allen Field House. It’s not even a surprise. But after such a surprising first half, it was undoubtedly a shame to let this one get away.