Lawrence, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - Big 12 basketball takes center stage on Monday with a pair of conference powerhouses squaring off at Allen Fieldhouse, as the Kansas Jayhawks play host to the Baylor Bears.
Since starting the season an outstanding 12-1 in non-conference play, Baylor has fallen flat in Big 12 play with losses in three of four, which includes two consecutive setbacks last week to Texas Tech (82-72) and nationally-ranked Oklahoma (66-64). The Bears haven't had much luck outside of Waco, going 0-2 in true road games.
As for Kansas, it has shined in league action, opening up 4-0, which includes knocking off a trio of ranked teams in Kansas State (86-60), Iowa State (77-70) and most recently Oklahoma State on Saturday, 80-78. The Jayhawks, who are 4-2 against ranked opponents this season and 4-0 in the Big 12 for the seventh time in Bill Self's 11-year tenure, have won eight of nine contests at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Bears have defeated the Jayhawks in two of the last three meetings, although Kansas still leads the all-time series, 19-4, which includes an 11-0 mark in Lawrence.
Baylor held a two-point lead over Oklahoma with just over four minutes to play over the weekend but was outscored 10-1 over the next three and a half minutes, and while it drained a pair of 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds it could not regain the advantage. It shot a lackluster 40.7 percent from the field and failed to take advantage of its tries from the free-throw line (10- of-20). Kenny Chery paced the losing effort with 16 points and five assists, while Isaiah Austin (12 points, nine rebounds, two blocks) and Cory Jefferson (11 points, eight rebounds) were both solid in the frontcourt.
On the season, the Bears have impressed on both ends of the floor, outshooting their opponents from the field, 48.1 percent to 40.9 percent, while presenting excellent margins in terms of scoring (+10.9) and rebounding (+9.7). The team's strength comes down low, where both Jefferson (13.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg) and Austin (10.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.8 bpg) have made a big difference. Chery (11.9 ppg, 5.1 apg) and Brady Heslip (10.8 ppg) patrol the perimeter for the balance squad.
The Jayhawks dominated the first half of play against Oklahoma State by opening up a commanding 47-30 lead at the break, and while they nearly coughed up that advantage down the stretch, they were able to hold on for the thrilling two-point victory. They shot an outstanding 55.8 percent from the field on the day and were paced by the efforts of Naadir Tharpe, who drained 7-of-8 from the field for 21 points, while also tallying six assists and three steals. Joel Embiid dominated in the paint, flirting with a triple-double by posting 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks.
Kansas is used to highly-efficient offensive performances, as it ranks fourth in the nation in field-goal percentage (.503) on its way to 79.1 ppg, which is more than enough to support its solid scoring defense (69.2 ppg). It boasts a +6.8 rebounding margin but also gives up 2.3 more turnovers per game that it forces. Andrew Wiggins has shown some inconsistency during his freshman campaign, shooting a modest 43.9 percent from the field, but he still registers 14.9 ppg and 5.2 rpg. Fellow first-year played Embiid (10.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.8 bpg) is quickly becoming one of the most feared big men in the country. Rounding out the outstanding starting lineup are Perry Ellis (13.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Wayne Selden Jr. (10.2 ppg) and Tharpe (8.9 ppg, 5.4 apg).