Baylor blew a chance to elevate its seed for the NCAA Tournament next week, falling hard to Kansas in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament Friday night.
But the Bears kept the big picture in mind after the 62-52 loss; they are going to the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year, a first in school history.
“The excitement comes from that,” center Rico Gathers said. “We’re not just excited about making the tournament, we’re trying to make a run. Hopefully we could get a 3-seed or a 4-seed, so we will have a better chance to make it to the Sweet 16 or the Elite Eight and hopefully a Final Four.”
Now that’s thinking big.
But for Baylor (24-9), which finished fourth in what the member schools tout as the toughest league in the country, maybe it’s a good place to let the mind wander after a 32.8 percent shooting night.
The Bears made only 5 of 25 shots in the first half, made only 1 of their first 19 3-point tries and had long scoring droughts in each half.
“It happens to the best of us,” guard Kenny Chery said. “We weren’t making shots today, and you can’t do nothing about it, just go out there, play defense. We had good stops, and we had good execution. We just didn’t hit ’em.”
Kansas didn’t either, for a while. But a 10-0 run in the second half behind six points from Wayne Selden Jr. and four from Frank Mason III, gave the Jayhawks enough breathing room against Baylor’s non-starting offense.
Selden finished with 20 points and eight rebounds for Kansas (26-7), which also got 11 points and six rebounds from Perry Ellis, playing after resting an injured knee for two games.
“I thought we defended them well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Let’s be real, they missed some open looks, too. But that’s part of it. With the exception of keeping Rico off the glass, we rebounded the ball very well against a team that’s a great rebounding team. We hadn’t made shots lately. Obviously, if we can’t depend on that, we can depend on making sure the other team doesn’t play well, and we actually did that pretty well.”
Chery had 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but he was only Baylor player to shoot 50 percent. Gathers had 11 points on 3-for-7 shooting. Royce O’Neal had eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Taurean Prince went 0 for 7 on 3-pointers.
“People are going to have off shooting nights,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “But you’ve got to be able to defend and rebound and give yourself a chance to be successful. We’ve taken care of the basketball. That’s why that, to me, is the biggest disappointment, the 17 turnovers. I mean, you can’t win like that.”
Certainly not next week.
The Bears know that. They’ve won NCAA Tournament games, reaching the regional semifinal round in 2014 and the regional final round in 2012 and 2010.
“Today was a lesson for us,” Chery said. “We’re going to watch film and prepare ourselves for the next matchup.”
Will it be as good a matchup as it could have been with a couple of more wins this weekend?
Probably not. But Drew remained optimistic about his team’s résumé.
“Because of the work we’ve done all year long — our RPI was 9, strength of schedule was 3 — hopefully we get a good seed,” he said. “And you’re never in a position where you play back-to-back games again, either. You get a day of rest in the NCAA, which allows you to hopefully make a couple more shots. Because I don’t know if people would like to watch basketball if no one ever made anything.”
Certainly not next week.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7760