No. 3 Kansas staked its claim to superiority in the Big 12 and the nation on Saturday with an authoritative 64-61 victory on the home court of No. 1 Baylor behind a monster effort from Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks' 7-footer finished with 23 points and a career-high 19 rebounds to help end the Bears' 23-game winning streak and bring the Jayhawks (24-2, 13-1 Big 12) even with Baylor (24-2, 13-1) in the conference standings with four regular season games remaining for both teams.
With the victory, Kansas also takes over Baylor's spot as the No. 1 overall seed in Jerry Palm's Bracketology. Baylor will remain on the No. 1 seed line as the No. 2 overall seed.
Azubuike's performance stood out all the more because of the element of redemption it contained. The senior center scored just six points when Kansas lost 67-55 at home to Baylor last month. He made up for it Saturday as Kansas won its 12th straight game since the loss to Baylor.
Still, Baylor put up a fight worthy of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears trailed 64-61 with 7.9 seconds and had a chance to tie the game. But Jared Butler's potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer fell off the front rim. Butler led Baylor with 19 points but needed 18 shots to get them as the Jayhawks held Baylor to 39.7% shooting.
Kansas, by contrast, shot 50.9% from the floor, thanks largely to Azubuike's 11 of 13 clip that featured eight dunks. Kansas scored 42 points in the paint, hitting only three 3-pointers as coach Bill Self tightened his rotation and relied on the pick-and-roll to sustain the offense against a defensive-minded Baylor team.
The Bears were haunted by an 8 of 15 clip at the free-throw line. That included a crucial miss by Freddie Gillespie on the front end of a 1-and-1 as the Bears trailed 60-55 with 39 seconds left. Aside from some poor free-throw shooting, the game hyped as one of the best college basketball matchups of the season delivered.
Here are three takeaways from Kansas' victory vs. Baylor:
Class of the country: Even in defeat, Baylor did nothing to suggest it is incapable of making a national title push. Sure, the Bears struggled to contain Azubuike. But they are far from the first team to encounter that issue. And how many more punishing 7-footers are they going to encounter on the way to the Final Four? It was easy to see why Baylor is still projected No. 1 seed on Saturday. Even after falling behind nine in the first half and 11 in the second half, the Bears battled back and took the game down to the wire.
Kansas rotation shrinks: Saturday may have brought an idea of what's to come for coach Bill Self's rotation. The Jayhawks used only seven players in the game as all five starters logged more than 30 minutes. Freshman forward Tristan Enaruna did not play for the first time this season, and Azubuike's 36 minutes set a new career high. Azubuike's extended playing time was partly out of necessity as reserve post player David McCormack fouled out in just four minutes. The Jayhawks looked winded late, and they could have been in trouble if the game went to overtime as both Devon Dotson and Azubuike ended the game with four fouls.
An asterisk? Nah: If some were discounting Baylor's victory over Kansas last month because it came with Dotson struggling through a hip injury for Kansas, then you must also acknowledge that Baylor's MaCio Teague was dealing with a wrist injury Saturday. The redshirt junior missed three games because of the injury, and his status for Saturday was a mystery until close to tip-off. Teague, who entered as Baylor's second-leading at 14.4 points per game, finished eight points in 29 minutes but did not yet appear 100% healthy.