Kansas' strong recovery from a mid-season slump has set up a dramatic finish to the Big 12 season.
With an eighth straight win Saturday at Baylor, the fourth-ranked Jayhawks can claim at least a share of their ninth consecutive Big 12 title, but it may not be easy for a team that hasn't won any of its last four road games in regulation.Kansas (26-4, 14-3) may have its eyes on No. 9 Kansas State's contest at No. 13 Oklahoma State earlier in the day. The Jayhawks and Wildcats are tied atop the conference standings, meaning a Kansas State loss could give Kansas a chance for its fifth straight outright league championship.Jayhawks coach Bill Self said he wasn't sure if he'd let his players watch the Wildcats play."I don't want them to burn any energy worrying about K-State; all we need to do is burn energy worrying about us and Baylor," Self said. "That is hard to do sometimes. You watch a game before you that definitely has implications on your season and it is hard not to get emotionally invested in a game like that."I would rather play the first game than the second."The Jayhawks had people scratching their heads with a three-game losing streak in early February, but they've since won seven in a row by an average of 21.3 points. They're shooting 49.9 percent over that stretch while the nation's best field-goal defense is holding teams to 32.3 percent shooting."I think for us to go through a tough stretch the way we did," Self said, "I think a win Saturday will make this as gratifying as any league title we have won."Five of the last seven wins came at home, though, and Kansas needed a total of three overtime periods to win the two road games. The Jayhawks lost at TCU and Oklahoma during their February skid, although they have won their last six trips to Waco.Kansas cruised to a 79-42 win over Texas Tech on Monday, shrugging off any distractions associated with senior day."It's time to get to business, and I think we all knew that," said senior Elijah Johnson, who has averaged 11.0 assists over his last two contests after having one double-digit assist game before that. "I honestly think the reason it hasn't hit all of us as far as this being the last (home) game is cause we're so focused on what we've got to do. So we're not dwelling on the moment."Baylor (17-13, 8-9) may need to win Saturday to get back to the NCAA tournament after reaching the regional finals two of the last three years. Since starting 5-1 in Big 12 play, the Bears have dropped eight of 11, including five of their last six.They fell below .500 in league play for the first time with a 79-70 loss Monday at Texas, and even an upset victory over the Jayhawks may not be enough for Baylor to get an at-large bid."Down the stretch, you just want to give yourself a chance to get in the tournament because anything could happen this year," coach Scott Drew said. "We're running out of opportunities."This game features the Big 12's top two scorers in Baylor's Pierre Jackson (19.1 ppg) and Kansas' Ben McLemore (16.5). Jackson is averaging 22.6 points and 7.2 assists over his last five games, but he was 2 of 12 from the field with four assists and four turnovers in Baylor's 61-44 loss at Kansas on Jan. 14.The Bears shot 23.2 percent in that game, their worst performance in the Big 12 era.