The road to the Big 12 regular season title goes through Kansas. Still. Again.
If there was any doubt about that this season, it was eliminated Wednesday night, when the Jayhawks held off Baylor 73-68 at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. The game was a battle for first place in the Big 12 standings, and so much more with two of the top three ranked teams in the country.
It wasn’t a matchup of 1-vs.-2, but a game pairing the second- and third-ranked teams in the country was a more than reasonable facsimile. The game included 11 ties and 10 lead changes, and neither team led by more than eight points.
In the end, the Jayhawks were just a little bit better down the stretch, answering everything the Bears threw at them in the final 10 minutes. Frank Mason scored seven of his 19 points in the final 3 minutes 33 seconds, and KU improved to 8-1 in the Big 12 at the league’s halfway point.
Kansas was carried by its starting five, with Josh Jackson (23 points, 10 rebounds) leading four players in double figures, and the quintet scoring all but two of the Jayhawks’ points. Undoubtedly, KU’s reliance on five players so much will be examined the rest of the season, but no one will be surprised if it works just fine.
As for the Bears, they might’ve just shown more in this loss than they have in quite a few wins this year. The record says Baylor is a top-5 team, and deservingly so. Close shaves against teams like Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and-most recently-Mississippi make it easy to wonder if this team isn’t living on borrowed time, and any day could fall off the blistering pace of wins it has set this year. Yet Baylor stood toe-to-toe with the Jayhawks on the road in this one, and just might’ve gotten the job done if it hadn’t been on the wrong end of a 27-6 free-throw differential. Perhaps the Bears will come back to the pack some yet, but that time is clearly not here, and Scott Drew’s team continues to be one of the stories of the season.
- VCU and Richmond played another typically outstanding game in their rivalry that is one of the best in the country right now, with the Rams holding serve at home 81-74 in a game that included 10 ties and 10 lead changes. VCU withstood 30 points from the Spiders’ Shawndre’ Jones to back up a win over Dayton last Friday.
- Clemson picked up a necessary 74-62 win at home over Georgia Tech. All five starters scored in double figures for the Tigers, a good sign for a team that too often relies on Jaron Blossomgame too much, while Ben Lammers was terrific (25 points, nine rebounds) but didn’t get enough help.
- The way things have been going for Indiana, few could’ve foresaw the Hoosiers’ game against Penn State as being one of the highlights of the night, but IU outlasted the Nittany Lions 110-102 in triple overtime to get the home win. Thomas Bryant scored a career-high 31 points and was one of four players with at least 26 points in the game.
- It was a good news/bad news night for Big 12 NCAA Tournament hopefuls, but mostly bad news. TCU won at Kansas State 86-80 in overtime, a serious gut check win for the Horned Frogs but a serious blow for the Wildcats, who don’t have much of a non-conference season to stand on. Also, Texas Tech lost at Texas 62-58, and the Red Raiders are now just 3-6 in the Big 12 and in need of making some hay now with three of their next four at home.
- It also was mixed news as Syracuse won at North Carolina State 100-93 in overtime. Good news for the Cuse to get a solid road win and rally from 16 down in the second half, but bad for the Wolfpack to blow this one and once again lose the type of game a team that’s capable of winning at Duke should also win. John Gillon scored 43 points for the Orange, while Dennis Smith notched a triple-double (13 points, 11 boards, 15 assists) for State.
- Marquette…ugh. The Golden Eagles have surrendered much of the goodwill they had built up two weeks ago with wins over Creighton and Villanova, losing to Providence and now at St. John’s 86-72.
- Florida State, on the other hand, responded quite nicely from a rotten spell last week, outscoring Miami (Fla.) 44-23 in the second half to rally for a convincing 75-57 win on the road.
- Tulsa came so close to a huge win, but Cincinnati rallied and Troy Caupain hit the game-winner with four seconds left in the Bearcats’ 57-55 win. The Golden Hurricane will rue missing out on this one at home after leading by 11 with six minutes left.
- Purdue drilled Northwestern 80-59 as Caleb Swanigan again was a man inside with 24 points and 16 rebounds. The Wildcats were hampered in this one, playing without Scottie Lindsey, who was out with the flu.
- Illinois State remained unbeaten in the Missouri Valley with a 57-51 win at home over Northern Iowa, despite playing without MiKyle McIntosh, who had surgery for a torn meniscus on Wednesday and is expected to be out for three weeks. Phil Fayne stepped up with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
- After topping rival Michigan on Sunday, Michigan State goes to Nebraska for another tough road game, but the type the Spartans probably need to win to get to the NCAA tourney (7 p.m. Eastern, ESPN).
- Because we always enjoy this matchup: St. Francis (Pa.) is at St. Francis (N.Y.).
- College of Charleston is at UNC Wilmington in their second big CAA meeting. The Seahawks won the first game and can really stretch out their lead in the league with this one. Also in the CAA, Northeastern goes to William & Mary for a matchup of two of the three teams tied for third place. Elon is the other, and the Phoenix host James Madison.
- Two of the four teams separated by one game atop the Southern Conference face off when UNC Greensboro goes to Tennessee-Chattanooga in one of the best games of the night on paper.
- California is a very quiet NCAA Tournament contender, but the Golden Bears can strengthen their credentials in a solid matchup at home against Utah.
- Belmont and Murray State have made up the best series in the OVC in recent years, so it’s nice to see TV picking up their game again (9 p.m., ESPNU).
- Finally, Gonzaga is on upset watch, with the always dangerous trip to BYU on deck Thursday night (11 p.m., ESPN2).
Have a very nice Thursday.