WACO -- Maybe it had something to do with the presence of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, Baylors 2011 Heisman Trophy winner, in a courtside seat at the Ferrell Center.It definitely had something to do with the unprecedented long-range accuracy of Bears forward Cory Jefferson, who entered Saturdays game with zero 3-pointers in his career but buried all three he attempted during a breakout, 25-point performance against No. 4 Kansas.Whatever the factors, all of them added up to Baylor moving back into the NCAA Tournament bracket and away from the bubble with a stunning, 81-58 victory over a Kansas team that still earned a share of its ninth consecutive Big 12 title and still projects as a No. 1 seed when March Madness unfolds later this month.Nothing is certain, of course. But Baylor (18-13, 9-9 in Big 12), a team that had disappeared from most NCAA bracket projections while dropping five of its last six games heading into Saturdays regular-season finale, breathed life into its at-large postseason hopes with a vengeance while handing Kansas (26-5, 14-4) its most lopsided loss since falling to Texas 80-55 on Feb. 25, 2006.The Bears shot 57.7 percent from the field, paced by the matching 11 of 13 efforts from Jefferson and point guard Pierre Jackson (28 points, 10 assists), and outscored Kansas, 44-24, in the paint. The Bears, who never trailed after taking a 4-2 lead in the second minute of the contest, triggered a postgame court storming by students and convinced Kansas coach Bill Self of their NCAA pedigree while playing their most complete contest during an up-and-down season.Baylor needed this game today, based on what everybody says. And they got it, Self said, reflecting on the NCAA ramifications of Saturdays contest. They deserve to be in the tournament and I think this will definitely put them in the field. I really do.So does Jackson, the catalyst of last years Elite Eight team who understood the challenge his team faced Saturday and responded, in the estimation of Bears coach Scott Drew, like the best player in the nation tonight.Jacksons 3-pointer, followed by a steal and breakaway layup, provided a 5-0 spurt in a 21-second stretch to stop one of the Jayhawks second-half surges. When Kansas cut a 17-point lead to 61-55 with 6:23 remaining, Jackson followed Isaiah Austins jumper with a steal and layup, then drove the lane and found Brady Heslip for another layup with 4:51 remaining to secure a double-digit lead the Bears would protect the rest of the game.We knew what was at stake and how big this game was. We handled business, Jackson said. We havent been playing that good as a whole, and we knew that. But tonight, against a great team ... its a great time for us to prove a point that were a good team and were capable of making a deep run in the tournament like we did last year. This is big-time for us. We needed it.Drew agreed. Like Self, he viewed Saturdays triumph which secured Baylors third signature victory of the season, joining wins over No. 13 Oklahoma State and Kentucky, the defending national champion as a likely game-changer on the Bears NCAA resume.I know our team can beat anybody in the nation, said Drew, who took Baylor to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012. Traditionally, weve done real well in the NCAA Tournament. And, hopefully, that continues.For Baylor, the job is not complete but the most difficult step has been achieved. Before the game, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla identified Saturdays matchup as a must-win proposition for the Bears if they hoped to land an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.By knocking off the Jayhawks, coupled with a pair victories in next weeks Big 12 Tournament, Fraschilla said Baylor could hit the 20-win mark and arrive in Lock City in regard to an NCAA bid without claiming the tournament title in Kansas City, Mo.But they have to complete that trifecta. And theyre capable of doing it, Fraschilla said. If they lose to Kansas, I think theyve got to win the Big 12 tournament.With Saturdays eye-catching victory over Kansas, the Bears no longer need to run the table in Kansas City. They may not even need a victory in the Sprint Center to reach the NCAA Tournament, as Self suggested.But the Bears definitely would be wise to avoid a one-and-done finish in KC. Just in case. As of Saturday, they showed theyre more than capable.We can still do great things. We have all the pieces, said guard A.J. Walton, a senior who laid a couple of kisses on the BU logo at midcourt after his final home game. If we buckle down on defense ... and take care of the ball like we did tonight, we can compete with anybody in the country.Baylor drove home that point Saturday against Kansas. Loud and clear.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch