The Bears fought hard in this one with two shots in the final 15 seconds that would have tied the game, despite turning the ball over on a third of their possessions. The heroic efforts of the two freshman just weren’t quite enough as the senior leaders of the team struggled to put the ball in the basket. RayJ Dennis had 3 points on 5 shot attempts — though he did contribute elsewhere with 8 assists and 7 rebounds to try to offset his 6 turnovers — while Jalen Bridges failed to score over the final 17 minutes of the game with 9 points on as many shot attempts with three turnovers.
For the game, the Jayhawks had 10 more shot attempts than the Bears, despite Baylor absolutely dominating the glass on both sides. Baylor had a 10-4 offensive rebounding advantage and a massive 15-4 advantage in second chance points. Of course, that was offset by the 17-5 deficit in points off turnovers.
While some of Baylor’s advantage on the glass was due to the absence of Kevin McCullar with knee soreness and Kansas’ general lack of size outside Hunter Dickinson, the biggest impact was the presence of Yves Missi, who played perhaps his most complete game in his career in the most hostile environment in the country. Missi finished with 21 points on just 9 attempts, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks — one of which was a send back of a Dickinson hook shot that is nearly unblockable down in the post. But most impressive was Missi’s showing on the free throw line. After struggling mightily in the non-conference with free throws, the 7-footer was 7 of 8 against Texas Tech on Tuesday and was 9 of 12 tonight. For his last 6 games, he’s been an 80% free throw shooter. The improvement and dedication he’s shown in that area is remarkable and yet another reason he will shoot up draft boards. He was Baylor’s best player tonight, and there were moments he was the best player on the floor despite being surrounded by NBA lottery talent and players many years his senior.
The game early looked like it was going to be over as quickly as last season’s debacle in Lawrence. The Bears fell down 4-16 in the first seven minutes, turning over the ball and missing shots in turn. The Bears started to climb back in it with 5 free throws from Ja’Kobe Walter, thanks to a Bill Self technical foul after Kansas was called for a foul on Walter shooting a three from the corner. Walter made all five, and the Bears were down just 6. Missi and Jayden Nunn had a back-to-back dunk and three, respectively, and suddenly Baylor was down just 2 points with a couple of minutes in the half. With Walter seeing the ball go in on the free throws and the offense seeming to settle in, the hopes of Bears fans for an upset started to rise.
But the second half went much the same as the first, with turnovers marring what was otherwise a brilliant effort. Baylor continued to be aggressive going at the basket, getting to the free throw line, and hitting a few much needed threes. The defense against Dickinson was also impressive. The future all-American had just 2 second half points, stonewalled by Missi in the post and bothered by help defense from Nunn, Bridges, and others.
When back-to-back threes from Walter and Nunn made it 60-55, Bill Self was forced to call a timeout to slow the momentum. It felt like the Bears, despite disjointed offense, had a chance to steal this one.
But in the final four minutes, Baylor failed to convert on 4 good three points looks, the final two with the chance to tie the game. Three of those misses were from Walter, whose three-point struggles have become glaring. He was 2-9 from three tonight and is 26% from deep in the last 6 games. And while his co-freshman Missi looked up to the moment, Walter seemed to struggle through the game with 5 turnovers and 5-12 shooting. He had no free throw attempts outside the 5 in a row in the first half. This was a game where Walter had the chance to make a statement and prove he’s worthy to be in the conversation at the top of the draft. Alas, good looks didn’t fall. His frustration at missing the final attempt was visible, as he pulled his jersey over his head, presumably to muffle a shout of frustration as the buzzer sounded.
Where he goes from here will define just how high Baylor can go. He’s clearly hit some kind of mental or emotional block. If he can maintain his effort — which has never diminished nor has his support of his teammates — the breakthrough will come. Whether it comes in time to lift the Bears back to the top of the conference standings remains to be seen.
On Tuesday, Baylor will host a tough Oklahoma Sooners team that has far surpassed expectations this season. The Sooners are 22nd in KenPom and have been in and out of the AP Top 25 all season, climbing as high as 7th in the middle of December.
The battle never rests in the Big 12, and Baylor’s conference hopes rest on defending home court from here on out.