No. 1 Kansas looks to ride momentum vs. Oklahoma St.
STILLWATER, Okla. — Kansas and Oklahoma State clash Saturday amid an appearance of having little on the line.
Far from it.
While the teams are locked into bracket spots for next week’s Big 12 Tournament — the top-ranked Jayhawks fill the No. 1 seed and the Cowboys sit at No. 5 — and both are safely projected into the NCAA Tournament field, motivation isn’t hard to find for either squad.
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Kansas continues its quest to lock down the No. 1 overall seed for March Madness. Oklahoma State looks to enhance its postseason status, with a sellout crowd expected to energize Gallagher-Iba Arena on Senior Night in the regular season finale for both schools.
And there are simmering bragging rights, both ways, with the Cowboys owning a three-game series winning streak of upsets in Stillwater. Oklahoma State is the only team to beat Kansas each of the past four seasons.
“There’s still stuff to be played for,” said Cowboys guard Phil Forte III, one of two seniors, along with Leyton Hammonds. “Both teams have a lot of pride. I expect nothing less than every other OSU-Kansas game. It’s going to be very physical, very intense. It’d be nice to come out with a win.”
The Jayhawks have already clinched the outright Big 12 regular season championship, their 13th consecutive. It’s been a taxing year for Kansas, with uncharacteristic depth issues forcing front-line players to fill a lot of minutes.
Still, there’s no sense that this is an opportunity for the Jayhawks to rest.
“We just want to get better,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We’ve been in this situation before where we haven’t probably closed the season out the way we’d like to, based on, you know, maybe clinching beforehand.
“But this is a time where I just hope our guys go down there and with a free mind, just play. And love to play with each other and know that that time is coming to an end shortly. And we just want to make it last as long as we can and make the most out of each opportunity, and this is certainly another opportunity.”
The game features the top two scorers and two of the premier point guards in the Big 12. The Jayhawks’ Frank Mason III leads the league at 20.3 points per game, while Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans is next at 18.6.
Kansas won the first meeting in Lawrence, 87-80, and rides into Stillwater on a seven-game winning streak and carrying an overall record of 27-3, 15-2 in the Big 12.
Oklahoma State, after an 0-6 start to conference play, has rallied to 9-8 in the Big 12 and 20-10 for the season. The Cowboys had a five-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night at Iowa State.
“We have to get back to a winning mindset after a very tough game in Ames,” Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said. “Now we welcome the No. 1 team in the country. Conference champions. They’re really good. There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the country. It’s Phil and Leyton’s Senior Night, an emotional night unto itself.
“We’re excited about the challenge and the opportunity.”