KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Baylor, a team with an embarrassment of riches in talent, finished fourth in the Big 12 this season. And because of that — whether it’s fair or not — the public perception of the Bears is that they’ve underachieved. Eventually, that kind of stuff wears thin on a team. If you poke the bear in the corner enough times, eventually the claws are going to come out.
And on Thursday, the Bears’ claws were sharp and violent as 12th-ranked Baylor eliminated Kansas State from the Big 12 Championship with an 82-74 victory in the quarterfinals at the Sprint Center.
“I said the whole week coming into the game I think (Baylor) got a raw deal,” K-State coach Frank Martin said. “They lost a couple of games in the Big 12 and people start acting like that makes them a bad team. They’re a Final-Four contending team, and they were real good.”
Five of Baylor’s six losses this season came at the hands of the top three teams in the league, with the other occurring against K-State on Feb. 18. So it’s not as if a bad loss existed on its resume. Yet it still seems that the Bears, at times, have gone into hibernation this winter.
Now that postseason play has arrived — and if Thursday’s game is any indication, it looks like Baylor is wide awake now — that it has flipped a switch and the light has come on. Particularly for Perry Jones III, who scored a career-high 31 points on 11-of-14 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds on Thursday.
“Perry is hungry,” Baylor’s Pierre Jackson said. “He’s got a lot of people to prove wrong. He knows what time of the year it is.”
K-State, admittedly, had some of its own struggles on Thursday.
“We just probably played our second-worst defensive game we’ve played all year,” Martin said.
But a large part of that was due to Baylor, which pretty much made everything it threw up at the rim. The Bears shot 57 percent from the field, including connecting on 62.5 percent in the second half. Whether it was mid-range jumpers or difficult shots in the paint, they were all falling for Baylor.
Jackson broke down K-State’s defense off the dribble, dishing out eight assists to just two turnovers. When a K-State player got beat off the bounce, the Wildcats’ rotations were slow to help.
“I feel like we just didn’t defend,” Will Spradling said. “We didn’t do a good job of rotating at all. We played selfishly on defense. Nobody tried to help each other out. If one man got beat, nobody was going to rotate over and help him, that’s something that we’re good at and we have to do in order to win.”
And when the Wildcats did get stops, often times, they couldn’t get the defensive rebound. On one possession in the first half, Baylor grabbed three offensive rebounds off three missed 3-pointers. The final offensive board led to a fourth 3-point attempt that dropped through the net.
By the 11:44-mark of the first half, Baylor had outrebounded K-State 12-3, had seven offensive rebounds and had outscored the Wildcats 10-2 on second-chance points.
“They killed us on the offensive glass,” said Jordan Henriquez, who had career highs in points (22) and rebounds (14). Outside of Henriquez, the rest of the Wildcats had just 10 rebounds combined in the game.
Martin said his team, which was outrebounded by six overall, was awful on the glass.
“Today was a joke,” Martin said. “I mean, it was a joke. We were so bad defensively. And I say that in a way in which Baylor was good. They’re a heck of a basketball team. But defensively we were so selfish. We didn’t help each other — we didn’t go rebound. They set the tone. They came after us and knocked us down and we really never punched back.”
It’s not as if K-State was bad offensively. K-State shot 49 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3 and made 15 of its 19 free throws. With those numbers — had the Wildcats played the defense they’re capable of — then they very well may have won.
“We just came out flat,” Jamar Samuels said. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
K-State led 15-13 early on and was tied up at 27-all with 6:43 left in the first half. But Baylor went on an 8-0 run to take a 35-27 lead and eventually took a 45-36 advantage into halftime.
The Wildcats cut the lead to five on two different occasions in the second half. But an 11-2 Baylor run pushed the five-point lead to a 64-50 cushion with 10:33 remaining.
“I’m disappointed because the behaviors we showed today as a team was stuff that we had going on back in November and December,” Martin said.
That disappointment will likely turn to excitement in a couple days, when the Wildcats should hear their name called for the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.
“We get one more chance to get it right,” Martin said. “And if we don’t get it right the season will be over.”