KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Scott Drew feels badly that conference realignment has wiped away traditional rivalries. He feels terrible that Missouri’s departure for the Southeastern Conference means a storied rivalry against Kansas has drawn to a close this season.
What the Baylor coach doesn’t regret is denying the border rivals one last match-up for the Big 12 title.
Perry Jones III poured in 18 points and Brady Heslip hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the closing minutes Friday night, allowing the No. 12 Bears to knock off third-ranked Kansas 81-72 in the conference tournament semifinals.
Fifth-ranked Missouri took care of its half of the equation, rolling to an 81-64 victory over Texas in the later game, but it’s the Bears who will await them Saturday night.
“It’s unfortunate a lot of rivalries have disappeared,” Drew said, “and I think every fan should be saddened. From a personal standpoint, I think people make decisions thinking they’re going to keep rivalries going also do other things, and sometimes that doesn’t work out.”
Kansas officials have no intention of playing the Tigers in the regular season after Missouri nearly torpedoed the Big 12 by leaving for the SEC. The Tigers have pushed publicly for the teams to meet once a year at a neutral site such as the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
“I’ve never said I was all right with the rivalry ending. Never said that. I’d like the rivalry to go on,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It’s just not going to.”
Kansas and Missouri waged two memorable games in the regular season; the Tigers rallied to win in Columbia and the Jayhawks stormed back from 19 down to win in overtime in Lawrence.
Perhaps it’s best that the series ended in that fashion.
The Bears advanced to only their second Big 12 title game — they lost to the Tigers 73-60 in 2009, when it was held in Oklahoma City — and will attempt to become the first team from Texas to win the event since its inception in 1997.
“We’re just more focused, and we’re playing as a team,” said Pierre Jackson, who contributed 11 points and seven assists against Kansas. “We know what time of year it is.”
Tyshawn Taylor scored 20 points for the Jayhawks. Thomas Robinson finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, while Elijah Johnson had 15 points despite going 1 for 6 from 3-point range.
“I don’t think we played particularly well in any facet, and Baylor shot the ball great from deep and they made their free throws,” Self said. “We let them get comfortable early, which isn’t a good sign when you’re playing a talented team.”
The Jayhawks trailed 43-35 when the teams hit the locker room, and was still behind 53-40 with 16:32 left in the game. A big push led by Taylor allowed Kansas to take a brief 58-56 lead, but the Bears scored the next nine points, and Heslip’s two 3-pointers — one with 2:03 left, the other with 1:12 to go — ultimately sealed the outcome.
“Very pleased with our guys from the standpoint we’ve been successful against Kansas before in spurts, and then they’d have a spurt and we couldn’t answer,” Drew said. “When they made a run tonight, I was really pleased with the character of our guys.”
Texas never managed to put together a second-half rally against Missouri.
The Tigers stormed to a big early lead and poured on the steam when Texas star J’Covan Brown left the game briefly after getting banged up. The outcome was never in doubt most of the second half as a partisan crowd roared its approval.
Senior guard Kim English, who was hobbled against the Longhorns but still managed 23 points, said he’s not concerned about what people think about the Tigers.
He certainly doesn’t care that a lot of Big 12 fans will be rooting against them.
“We’re focused on people in our locker room, the people that support our program, the fans in the state of Missouri,” English said. “That’s who we want to win the championship for.”
English has been sublime at the Sprint Center, going 20 of 23 from the floor over his first two games of the league tournament, and 31 of 40 counting a pair of games earlier in the season.
Phil Pressey, whose previous career high was 22 points, also had 23 points against Texas.
“I usually try to get a feel for the game and see how teams are going to play me, because some teams kind of play me for the pass,” he said. “My teammates were confidence in me.”
Missouri coach Frank Haith dismissed any notion that he would rather have faced Kansas for the Big 12 title. He played the perfect diplomat in the postgame news conference, deflecting most of such questions and saying all the right things when he addressed some head on.
“We have an opportunity to win the Big 12 championship,” Haith said with a straight face, “regardless of who we’re playing against.”
It just so happens to be Baylor.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)