LAWRENCE — Sometimes, Dajuan Harris Jr. needs a little push.
It’s not necessarily physically, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self is explaining. It’s more so metaphorically, something that’s happening that can be that spark for Harris. And on Saturday, during the Jayhawks’ top-10 matchup with Baylor inside Allen Fieldhouse, he came in via Harris’ bucket to start the second half.
Because that shot, which came after the Bears had gone into halftime up 45-32, got Harris his first two points in a night that would go on to finish with 14. He helped the Jayhawks narrow their deficit to single digit in less than a minute. , as they raced to retake the lead with around 15½ minutes left in regulation.
And as Kansas won 87-71, thanks to a 55-26 second half lead, Harris paired his offensive raise with a stalwart defensive effort that together made him the Jayhawks’ Most Valuable Player against Baylor.
“We were really talking defense in the second half, and I just needed to be aggressive,” said Harris, a redshirted junior guard, who asked about Self’s message during halftime. “I knew it, and I had the opportunity to get into the driving lanes and my teammates found me too. So, all the credit goes to my teammates.”
Harris took just one shot, which he missed, in the first half. Then, in the second half, he shot 6-of-7 from the field and 2-of-2 from behind the arc. It’s the sixth time this season that he has made at least six field goals in a game, and for the sixth time in those six games Kansas has won.
Harris also finished with nine assists, six in the second half and just one turnover. It’s the eighth time he has had at least nine assists in a game this season. In those games, the Jayhawks are now 7-1 with the only loss being that road loss to Kansas State.
Self already trusted Harris’ ability to be someone the team could rely on to help pull them out of the hole a lackluster first half can dig them. Harris’ teammates, like redshirt junior forward Jalen Wilson, already knew the additional heights they can reach as a team when Harris plays like this. This was just another example.
“That’s all we need,” Wilson said. “He’s the floor general out there, but he can also get away with it and score. And that’s exactly what we need. And for him to give that effort on defense and continue to do it on offense, I mean he’s just a well-rounded guy that you want to be in control of the game at point guard. So, we know what we want (Harris) to do and (Harris) knows we need him to score.
Harris, who missed some playtime during Tuesday’s win against Oklahoma State with an ankle injury, won’t have much rest time ahead of Kansas’ next game. The Jayhawks still play Monday, on the road, against TCU. Earlier this season the Horned Frogs defeated Kansas in Lawrence.
But Harris, like his teammates, will be able to prepare for their next game with the momentum they gathered for themselves during their Big 12 Conference regular season title race. By beating Baylor (20-7, 9-5 in Big 12 play), Kansas secured a top three-team tie with Baylor and Texas has now become a two-team tie with Texas. And there’s the added motivation for them to make sure TCU doesn’t complete a regular season sweep of Kansas as well (22-5, 10-4 in Big 12 play).
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas athletics at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is the National Sports Media Association Sportswriter of the Year for the state of Kansas for 2022. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.