Save your strength, America: Jayhawks say they ‘owe’ one to Iowa State

Kelly Oubre Jr. and the rest of the Jayhawks would be undefeated in the Big 12 if it weren't for one painful loss to the Cyclones on Jan. 17.

Orlin Wagner/AP

LAWRENCE, Kan. — So now the page turns, happily, knuckles cracking.

"We owe them," Kelly Oubre Jr. said.

"We owe them," Wayne Selden said.

The "them" is No. 15 Iowa State, the "we" is No. 9 Kansas and the cage is the venerable Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night, the tail end of National Super Bowl Hangover Recovery Day.

"They beat us. That simple. They beat us," Oubre offered Saturday following KU’s 68-57 win over Kansas State. "We took our first loss in the Big 12 (to Iowa State), and we owe them one.

"We could be undefeated right now. That’s the way I look at it. So we owe ’em one."

Save your strength, America.

The last time they touched gloves, the Cyclones (16-4, 6-2) ran the Jayhawks (18-3, 7-1) out of the gym. Literally. Team Hoiberg collected 21 fast-break points, Team Self had just 10 and KU fell at Hilton Coliseum, 86-81, on Jan. 17, its second setback to Iowa State in 10 months.

"Transition buckets," Selden said when asked what images from Ames wound up seared into his brain. "And them getting a lot of easy buckets. You know, that’s one thing we really don’t want to do is give anybody easy buckets, and we gave them easy points."

There’s a theme there, at least in the KU camp, and it’s that Round 1 was a giveaway of sorts — a letdown, an "effort" thing.

And nothing — nothing — gets under coach Bill Self’s epidermis quite like "effort" things, boys and girls. To paraphrase Ike and Tina Turner’s version of "Proud Mary," KU doesn’t want any opponent to get away with anything nice and easy.

"They made us look foolish many possessions there in Ames," Self said. "Even though it was a two-possession game late, we didn’t put our best foot forward there."

Lookin’ good! Check out our gallery of Big 12 hoops cheerleaders.

That best foot was forward Saturday, especially early, and usually up the Wildcats’ collective backsides. The hosts raced out to a 20-5 lead in the tilt’s first eight minutes, working the Allen Fieldhouse crowd into the usual lather. Even with Kansas State’s basketball profile up to a decade of relevance now, this series still plays out largely like a driveway game, one in which the Wildcats are the 11-year-old, flailing and reaching for the ball. The Jayhawks, on the other hand, are the 16-year-old big brother, protecting the rock with one hand and stiff-arming the little guy with the other.

Little Brother is 4-49 in his past 53 meetings with KU, which is why Little Brother is referred to as such in Kansas circles. That and the fact that the Jayhawks have won the past nine in Lawrence by an average margin of 18.4 points.

So, in a sense, this one was close, relatively speaking. Or less egregious. At least the zebras felt compelled to let ’em play.

Or rather, let ’em miss. The Wildcats’ 17 percent clip from the floor in the first period was the fourth-worst shooting half in the program’s history.

"Obviously, if you’re going to come in here you have to guard them and fight them," said K-State coach Bruce Weber, who fell to 0-3 with the ‘Cats at the Phog. "I’m not saying with fists — you have to battle them. If you don’t do that, if you think you’re going to go in and just be pretty soft, you aren’t going to win."

K-State (12-10, 5-4) got off the mat, shifting the narrative to trading-baskets mode in the final 20 minutes, but were never able to cut the KU lead to single digits, never able to mount a consistent threat, despite 13 second-half points from Marcus Foster. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks continued their trend of napping for 10-to-12-minute stretches in the second half after a big lead. A trait that also gets under the skin of you-know-who a bit.

"It’s like Sybil — we’ve got multiple personalities within the game," Self cracked. "That’s what’s frustrating."

Alas, the ‘Cats were a Foster short of making this one truly interesting. But it wasn’t for lack of want-to: During one early timeout, a red-faced Weber was captured on social media turning magenta with anger in the huddle, ripping a staffer’s clipboard out of the poor guy’s hands and hurling it to the ground in rage.

"I was just disappointed," Weber said later. "And we talked about not going one-on-one, and having some pride and guarding, not just letting them dribble down the lane and make layups."

The Jayhawks collected 38 points in the paint, 22 in the first half, to K-State’s 24 and 10. Although after losing by 21 and 26 in his past two trips to Naismith Drive, an 11-point deficit felt almost close enough for Weber to touch. Almost.

"They just out-grinded us," Weber said.

It was a grindy tilt and a star-studded crowd: Among the notables spotted were Royals Eric Hosmer, Sal Perez, Mike Moustakas and Jarrod Dyson; Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson; and former KU standouts Sherron Collins, Scot Pollard and Eric Chenowith.

Saturday belonged to the stars. Monday? Monday is about the stakes. And if you don’t believe us, ask the Cyclones’ Naz Long:

Time to settle it. Once and for all.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.