No. 1 Kansas 72, No. 9 Kansas St. 64
Snip by snip, the Kansas Jayhawks took down another championship
So what if there are bigger goals still ahead.
Winning a title feels good anytime, especially against a rival
in an atmosphere like this.
Balanced and sharp when it needed to be, No. 1 Kansas won its
seventh Big 12 tournament title Saturday night, holding off No. 9
Kansas State 72-64 inside an ear-ringing Sprint Center.
“Having a chance to beat, in our estimation, one of the best
teams in the country in a great atmosphere against your state rival
in Kansas City makes it a little more special than if we’d been
playing anybody else,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Taking the stage in one of the biggest sporting events in Kansas
City’s history, the Jayhawks (32-2) wore down the Wildcats
defensively and came to life briefly on offense in the second half
to beat their rivals for the third time this season.
The Jayhawks won a sixth straight regular-season Big 12 title
and capped that with a gritty three-game run through one of the
toughest conference tournaments in the country, a combination
that’ll likely earn them a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA
tournament when the brackets are announced Sunday.
Marcus Morris had 18 points, Tyrel Reed added 15 and Kansas held
the Wildcats to 34 percent shooting to keep the Sunflower Showdown
a lopsided affair with its 41st win – six in the Big 12 tournament
– in 43 games since 1994. Sherron Collins added 12 points and seven
assists for the Jayhawks.
“I think we have some momentum going into the NCAA
tournament,” said Reed, who hit both 3-point attempts and was 7 of
9 on free throws. “We’ll celebrate tonight and starting tomorrow
start focusing on our first-round opponent.”
Kansas State (26-7) had visions of ending its conference
tournament title drought at 30 years against the one team it wants
to beat the most. The Wildcats gave themselves a shot behind a
scrappy defensive effort, but didn’t have an answer when Kansas
made its second-half push.
Now, Kansas State goes into Selection Sunday hoping its
school-record 26 wins and top-10 strength of schedule will be
enough to sway the committee into giving it a high seed.
Denis Clemente had 17 points, Jamar Samuels 14 and Jacob Pullen
added 13 for K-State.
“We went to the championship and went nose-to-nose with the
bear,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “We were right there
and just couldn’t finish it off.”
The two regular-season meetings were among the biggest in the
rivalry’s 103-year history.
The opening act was in the Little Apple, where Kansas squeezed
out a taut overtime victory that was among the best games of the
college basketball season.
Part II was pre-billed as one of the greatest Sunflower
Showdowns ever, the teams ranked in the top 5 against each other
for the first time in 52 years. It was a bit of a flop, Kansas
winning easily in Collins’ Allen Fieldhouse finale.
The final act – well, barring a fourth in the NCAA tournament –
was a rivalry intertwined with bigger prizes: another Big 12
tournament title for Kansas, K-State’s first ever, a probable No. 1
seed in the NCAA tournament on the line, big-time bragging
Even with less than 24 hours of buildup, it was a monumental
event, one of the biggest in Kansas City sports history. Maybe not
on the level of Danny and the Miracles winning a national title for
Kansas at Kemper Arena in 1988 or the I-70 World Series won by the
Royals three years earlier, but a top-fiver for sure.
“There won’t be a better atmosphere in America for a final (of
a) conference tournament,” Self said.
It’s hard to argue.
The entire city was juiced for it, seemingly everyone wearing
crimson or purple, talking smack in the mall, the grocery
Two hours before the game, the Power & Light District
outside the Sprint Center was shoulder-to-shoulder. Inside was a
purple-and-blue checkerboard of fans filling the 18,897-seat arena
to the brim, the roars and boos colliding in a floor-shaking fury
with each momentum swing.
What swings there were.
Mostly, it was a lot of missed shots, offensive fouls and not
Kansas State missed its first 12 attempts against KU’s pressure
before finally scoring on Wally Judge’s tip 5:14 into the game. The
Jayhawks had similar problems with Kansas State’s overplaying
defense, managing five points during the Wildcats’ scoreless
The clangs continued throughout the first half and the teams
combined to shoot 13 of 67, with Kansas clinging to a 31-27
The trend continued into the second half until Kansas started to
find seams and the bottom of the net midway through.
Kansas pushed the lead to 62-52 on Collins’ half-hook runner in
the lane with just over five minutes left and answered every Kansas
State challenge after that to head into the NCAA tournament with a
head of steam.
“KU is the best team in the country,” Martin said. “Every
time we made a push today, they answered. That’s what makes them so
difficult to beat. They never give in.”