LAWRENCE, Kans. – Allen Fieldhouse is billed as college basketball’s best home court advantage. The legacy videos played before and after the Kansas starters are announced whip the 16,300 in a frenzy that raises the sound level to sand blasting levels.
After another Jayhawks victory over another visiting team, there will be another clip added to the highlight reel that might raise as much noise as does Mario’s Miracle, the 3-pointer by Mario Chalmers that helped KU win the 2008 national championship.
No. 24 Baylor, playing in its yellow highlighter jerseys, were zoning out on defense and zoning in from 3-point range. The Bears were giving the impression that winning here for the first time was possible. But the eighth-ranked Jayhawks pulled away for a 78-68 victory on Big Monday thanks to a hustle play that was No. 1 on SportsCenter’s top 10 plays of the day.
The Jayhawks (14-4, 5-0) had gone up 51-44 thanks to five consecutive points by sophomore Perry Ellis. After Baylor’s Royce O’Neale missed a 3-pointer, the Jayhawks started a fast break that ended with a bad pass that was batted toward the stands opposite of KU’s bench.
Freshman Wayne Selden Jr. gave chase and dove head first over the first row, landing in the third row after flipping the ball back toward the court. Replays showed that his foot was out of bounds, but …
“That was a great play,” said Baylor’s Brady Heslip when told that Selden had been out of bounds. “He deserved it … great hustle.”
A great play became a highlight because Selden’s blind flip found Joel Embiid, who curled in a five-foot jump hook for a 53-44 lead that forced a Baylor timeout at 11:08. The save was part of a 14-2 run that gave the Jayhawks a 14-point lead.
“That was a great possession for us as a team,” said Ellis of Selden’s save/assist.
Selden joked that he saw Embiid because he has eyes in the back of his head. “I didn’t know who would get it,” he said. “I just had to get the ball.”
The fans on the first few rows got a little something extra for the price of admission. Selden, after watching a replay a couple of hours after the game, Tweeted: “Apologies go out to the guy that caught the foot to the face!”
Baylor (13-5, 1-4) lost its third consecutive Big 12 game but probably played better than it has in the three losses. The Bears made 13-of-27 shots from 3-point range with Heslip channeling Phil Forte and going 6-for-9.
Coach Scott Drew started Taurean Prince in place of Gary Franklin, giving the Bears four players 6-6 or taller. Their zone had the wingspan of a 747. The Jayhawks had to be patient in their half-court offense and that kept the game’s pace at a school-zone speed.
“Kansas can be devastating when they get out and run,” said Drew, whose team trailed 37-35 at halftime. “We knew it was a 40-minute game. What’s tough about playing here is you can’t let them get separation. We made a couple of turnovers and the next thing you know, you’re down double digits.”
Ellis scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, showing more aggressiveness against Baylor’s bigs. He made the second-best hustle play for Kansas. His steal, dunk and free throw pushed KU’s lead to 51-44 and preceded Selden’s play.
“That was one of the key plays of that spurt and Perry needed something good to happen because he had been laboring,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
“I wasn’t being aggressive,” Ellis said. “Coach let us know, Andrew (Wiggins) and I that we needed to pick it up.”
Wiggins, coming off his worst game (three points) in Saturday’s victory over Oklahoma State, scored 11 of his 17 points in the second half. He scored nine consecutive points over a three-minute span before Ellis tallied the Jayhawks’ last seven.
Kansas, which is trying to win its 10th consecutive regular-season Big 12 championship, has started 5-0 in five of the last six seasons. The Jayhawks also became the first team since North Carolina in 1996-97 with four consecutive victories over ranked teams. It was the first time in Kansas history that it has defeated four straight ranked foes.
“I like where we’re at,” Self said. “Considering after San Diego State, losing at home, to flip it and play like we did three days later against Oklahoma and get it going, we showed some toughness. We’ve definitely played better over the last five games than we have all season long.
“I think we’re a tired team. Five games in 12 days against good competition ... I think we’re a little fatigued.”