On Saturday, Baylor went into Lexington and knocked off then No. 8 Kentucky, 64-55.
It was an impressive performance, if, for no other reason, than the fact that it ended Kentucky’s 55 game home winning streak and was the first loss that John Calipari has suffered in Rupp Arena.
But it was that loss, combined with Kentucky’s loss at Notre Dame earlier in the week, that sent the Wildcats free-falling, from No. 8 in the country to being unranked. Maybe that drop was more prescient than everyone realized, because after Tuesday night, the team that ended Kentucky’s winning streak in Rupp can now count losses to Colorado, at home to Charleston and at home to Northwestern.
The final score was 74-70, but that score doesn’t come close to telling you the entire story of the Wildcat’s win. In the first half, Baylor say back in a zone as Northwestern dissected them with the pass and — get this — abused them on the glass. But since the Wildcat’s couldn’t get their shots to drop from the perimeter, they went into the break with just a 35-32 lead.
The second half was a different story, however, as NW used a 19-4 run to jump out 54-36 lead. That’s when Baylor finally turned it on. They threw a press on the Wildcats, making Northwestern look like a team that Baylor and picked out from the local YMCA for a scrimmage. It was tough to watch. The Wildcats were barely able to get the ball over half court, and when they did, they couldn’t hit a free throw.
Northwestern gave Baylor chance after chance to come back, and the Bears did — cutting the lead all the way down to two points. But the Bears would have won if they didn’t repeatedly shoot themselves in the shoot.
There are two examples that stick out in my mind. The first is an flagrant foul that was given to freshman Rico Gathers with a little more than two minutes left. With Jared Swopshire on a runout, Gathers hit Swopshire across the arms as hard as he could with his left arm while tackling him into the row of photographers under the basket. It didn’t end up costing Baylor that much, as Swopshire missed one of the two free throws and Northwestern turned the in-bounds pass over, which allowed the second mistake to manifest.
Baylor was down four with 30 seconds left on the clock. They had the ball, and they had Northwestern on the ropes, waiting for the comeback to be finished off. Pierre Jackson brings the ball down the floor and … pulls up for a 25 foot three instead of getting to the rim. He airballed the three, which means that Northwestern got the ball back up four instead of up two.
And given how Northwestern had handled the pressure — both of the moment and from Baylor’s defense — there’s little doubt in my mind that Baylor would have gotten the ball back down just a single possession.
Instead, Northwestern simply had to inbound the ball and wait to get fouled.
Everyone has bad nights, so I’m not going to rip Baylor too much for coming out poorly one game after beating Kentucky at Kentucky.
But I will rip them for the kind of mental mistakes and poor decisions that they’ve made over and over the last couple of years when they finally do turn it on.