Defense and hustle have been the hallmarks of Kansas ever since Bill Self took over the program. Heck, they were a big part of it even before his arrival.
So, not surprisingly, Self was pleased that it was defense and hustle that triggered the defining run in the eighth-ranked Jayhawks’ 78-68 victory over No. 24 Baylor on Monday night.
First was the defense: Perry Ellis stepped in front of a lackadaisical pass by the Bears, race up court and finished while getting fouled. He made the free throw, too.
Then the hustle: Wayne Selden tracked down a loose ball along the sideline, saved it to teammate Joel Embiid as he leaped over a table and fell into the laps of two Baylor fans, and was still struggling to get back to the court when his teammate converted the layup.
The two baskets were part of a 14-2 run that created the separation Kansas needed.
“I thought even though our defense wasn’t great tonight,” Self said, “it was nice to have energy keying our run there, because we had so many opportunities.”
Ellis finished with 18 points to lead the Jayhawks (14-4, 5-0 Big 12), while Andrew Wiggins scored 17 — most of them at the free throw line, where he was 10 of 12.
Kansas finished 26 of 29 from the free throw line, pushing it to its fifth straight win. The last four have come against Top 25 teams — Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor — making the Jayhawks the first to accomplish that feat since North Carolina in 1997.
“Might as well get used to playing good teams all the time,” Wiggins said.
Brady Heslip hit six 3-pointers and scored 19 points for the Bears (13-5, 1-4), who have lost three straight and four of five. Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin added 16 points apiece.
“We knew that turnovers and getting them out of transition, we knew how effective they are in transition,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “You can’t have 16 turnovers and win games on the road, in places like this. Got to get better in this area.”
The teams combined for 16 turnovers in a disjointed first half that included 12 lead changes but virtually no rhythm. The Jayhawks managed to squeeze out a two-point halftime lead, but they had to shoot 60 percent from the field to do it.
That’s because Baylor was scorching from beyond the arc.
Heslip hit all four of his 3-point tries and the 7-foot Austin added two — he was 0 for 4 from inside the arc. Along with the two 3-pointers that Jefferson hit, the Bears knocked down 8 of 10 beyond the perimeter in the first half. They were 4 of 18 everywhere else.
The game remained close until Ellis scored inside with 12:48 remaining to start the Jayhawks on their game-defining run, and then came the two biggest highlights of the game.
First, the steal and breakaway basket by Ellis: “They did it a couple plays before,” he said. “I just tried to hurry out there as best as I could and get the deflection.”
Then the hustle play by Selden: “Just the eyes in the back of my head,” he said.
Everybody else’s eyes had quickly turned to Embiid — including the officials — as the 7-foot freshman converted the basket. The only people who seemed to notice that Selden’s foot was out of bounds were the folks who were able to catch the replay on television.
“He was out of bounds?” Heslip asked. “Maybe he deserves it because that was great hustle.”
Drew burned a timeout as things started to get away from the Bears, but the Jayhawks kept right on charging. Naadir Tharpe’s 3-pointer made it 60-46 with 8:16 left in the game.
From there, it was a matter of Kansas maintaining its lead.
Austin hit a 3-pointer to get Baylor within 61-51 with just over 6 minutes left, but Wiggins made four straight from the free throw line. Heslip hit another 3-pointer with 3:45 to go, but Wiggins scored on a scooping layup to keep the cushion comfortable.
Just about the only thing that went wrong toward the end of the game for Kansas came when reserve forward Tarik Black hurt his lower leg. He appeared to get rolled into by the Bears’ Rico Gathers, and Black needed considerable help to make it off the court.
“He just turned his ankle,” Self said. “I didn’t think you could hurt him, but he should be fine. He’ll be fine.”
Bill Self Post-Game Audio
Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis Post-Game Audio