WACO, Texas (AP) – Kansas coach Bill Self knows most people look at how Andrew Wiggins plays as a barometer for what to expect from the eighth-ranked Jayhawks.
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking the other players around the Big 12’s top-scoring freshman.
Naadir Tharpe scored 22 points, nine in a go-ahead run before halftime, and the Big 12-leading Jayhawks rebounded from their first league loss with a 69-52 victory at Baylor on Tuesday night.
“We’ve just got to be a team that it’s going to be a different guy most every night,” Self said. “And (Tharpe) stepped up when we needed him to step up.”
Early on, there were three ties and nine lead changes. Tharpe’s short jumper with 3½ minutes left in the half broke a 25-all tie and put the Jayhawks (17-5, 8-1 Big 12) ahead to stay.
The tiebreaking shot was Tharpe’s third basket in a 14-3 spurt over the final 5 minutes of the first half, and he added a 3-pointer with a minute left. He then made another 3 on Kansas’ opening possession after halftime.
Wiggins finished 4-of-13 shooting and didn’t make his first basket until a half-court shot to beat the buzzer going into halftime for a 35-27 lead.
“Well, we ran that play for him at the end of the first half to get him going,” Self joked of Wiggins, who finished two points off his season average.
“It was big. It gave a great momentum push going into halftime,” said Perry Ellis, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. “It was great that he knocked that down. It got him going.”
Cory Jefferson had 14 points to lead Baylor (14-8, 2-7), which lost its fourth consecutive game at the Ferrell Center after a 13-game home winning streak. It’s the longest home drought since dropping six straight in 2005.
The Bears, coming off a win at then-No. 8 Oklahoma State that snapped their overall five-game losing streak, was trying to set up for a final shot before halftime when Kenny Chery threw an errant pass that Wiggins intercepted.
“Round 1 is over in the league. We have to do better in Round 2,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “The good thing is I believe we can win every game, but with the Big 12 being like it is we can lose every game. We have to make sure we play well to have a chance to win.”
Baylor has never won consecutive games over Top 25 opponents.
The Bears shot only 29 percent from the field (16 of 55) – Drew, looking for a positive, pointed out they did have assists on all but one of those made baskets. They were outrebounded 45-31.
Kansas was coming off an 81-69 loss Saturday at surging Texas.
“We just came out there without energy. I felt like even though Texas played that tremendous game out there, we kind of beat ourselves,” said Tharpe, who sat the final 10 minutes of that game when had only three points on 1-of-4 shooting. “We didn’t come out with any kind of energy, we had nothing. After they made a play, we had nothing coming back. So we knew coming into today in Waco, we had to come out with some fire right away. And that’s what we did.”
In their regular season finale last March, the Jayhawks lost 81-58 at Baylor. They still had a share of their ninth consecutive Big 12 title, but that loss kept them from winning it outright.
Baylor was within 49-44 midway through the second half and Wiggins had just shot and missed the rim.
But the Bears missed three free throws on the same possession. Then, with Baylor students chanting “Air Ball!, Air Ball!”, Wiggins swished a 3-pointer from the right wing. Wiggins scored again on the next possession to push the lead to 54-44, and had the next basket as well with a dunk with 7:49 left.
Brady Heslip had 12 points on four 3-pointers, but didn’t score again after his last gave Baylor a 22-21 lead with 6:34 left in the first half.
“We were just playing him behind his numbers. We were running behind him,” Tharpe said of second-half adjustments on Heslip. “We just knew that he got a lot of good looks off in the first half, and we couldn’t let that happen again.”