Kansas hasn’t responded kindly to losing its first game, bouncing back with two decisive wins.
Baylor would take any type of victory when the surprising Bears visit the No. 4 Jayhawks on Saturday, looking to win at Allen Fieldhouse for the first time.
Of course, Baylor will be facing a Kansas team that has won 20 in a row at home and 36 of its last 38 games overall.
After having its 20-game winning streak to open the season snapped in a 84-75 loss at Kansas State on Jan. 30, Kansas (22-1, 7-1 Big 12) has won two conference games by an average of 16.0 points, including Monday’s 90-71 home victory over Missouri.
That was Kansas’ closest of four Big 12 home games this season, winning them by an average of 27.0 points en route to a 16-0 overall record at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks are 7-0 all-time against Baylor in Lawrence, and have lost only once in 13 meetings overall.
Against Missouri, the Jayhawks had a 12-point lead by halftime and outrebounded the Tigers 48-25. They had five scorers in double figures, led by Brandon Rush’s 19 points.
Rush plans to go without a knee brace on Saturday for the first time since he tore his ACL during a practice game last May. He’s shown signs of progress recently, averaging 15.6 points while scoring in double figures in each of Kansas’ eight conference games.
Before then, he was averaging just 10.8 points, one season after scoring 13.8 per game.
“Definitely, he’s getting a lot better, he’s getting more confident,” Kansas guard Mario Chalmers said. “He’s going to be able to do a lot more things like he used to. We’re getting in the flow of Big 12 and we’re coming down to crunch time and we need him to perform.”
Baylor (17-4, 5-2) had been performing well, winning its first four Big 12 games, but fell from the Top 25 after losing consecutive games to Oklahoma and Texas.
The Bears are still off to their best start since the 1947-48 season, and their skid ended with an 80-74 win over Texas Tech on Wednesday as Curtis Jerrells scored a team-high 16 points. The junior guard needs three points to reach 1,000 for his career.
“You don’t want to lose three in a row. Two in a row is bad enough,” Jerrells said. “We’ve got two tough road games coming up, and coming out with a win gives us a little confidence. We’ll just get ready for those two games.”
After facing Kansas, Baylor travels to Oklahoma State on Wednesday.
The Bears allowed an average of 78.5 points in their two most recent losses, and they rank 11th in the Big 12 with 70.1 points allowed per game. Kansas, meanwhile, leads the Big 12 in scoring with 82.8 points per game, 2.1 better than the next-best team—Baylor.
The Bears have primarily benefited from impressive guard play, led by Jerrells, junior Henry Dugat and senior Aaron Bruce. Along with freshman LaceDarius Dunn and sophomore Tweety Carter, the quintet averages a combined 56.7 points - more than 70 percent of Baylor’s average.
“They are probably the best collection of guards that we’ve faced so far this year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Baylor is probably as deep at the guard position as anybody in the country.”
Kansas counters with an impressive collection of its own, with Rush, Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson, who combine for 41.1 points and 13.9 assists per game.
Baylor has never started 6-2 in Big 12 play. The only time the Bears opened 5-2, in the 1997-98 season, their eighth league game was also at Kansas, which was then No. 5. Baylor lost that game 94-47 and went on to finish 8-8 in the Big 12.