(AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self wasn’t shocked at his team’s recent losing streak. He’d just prefer that it doesn’t happen again.
The 14th-ranked Jayhawks continue their push for a ninth consecutive Big 12 regular-season title when they host Texas on Saturday night.
Well on its way to another league crown with 18 consecutive victories Nov. 15-Jan. 28, Kansas (20-4, 8-3) endured a three-game skid before Monday’s 83-62 victory over No. 10 Kansas State. Led by Ben McLemore’s 30 points and center Jeff Withey’s 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks, the Jayhawks ended their longest slide since 2005.
Article continues below ...
“What we were going through is what 99 percent of teams in America go through,” Self said. “There’s only 1 percent that doesn’t go through this kind of stretch. And we’re spoiled because it’s been a long time since we went through one of these stretches.”
Tied with Kansas State and No. 17 Oklahoma State atop the Big 12, the Jayhawks can’t afford a letdown against Texas (11-13, 3-8) with sole possession of first place possibly up for grabs when they visit the Cowboys on Wednesday.
The Longhorns come to town with one win in 11 road games in this series, but that 74-63 victory Jan. 22, 2011, ended the Jayhawks’ 69-game run at home.
This, though, is a different Texas team. The Longhorns, who fell to 0-4 in Big 12 play for the first time under coach Rick Barnes with a 64-59 defeat to Kansas on Jan. 19, will match last season’s loss total if they can’t end a seven-game road skid against Top 25 teams.
Barnes understands the challenges of playing in Lawrence, but he’s cautiously optimistic after watching his team avoid a third consecutive loss with Wednesday’s 89-86 double-overtime victory over Iowa State.
“We have something to work with,” said Barnes, whose team last won two straight two months ago. “We are not anywhere near where we need to be, but it’s a start.”
The Longhorns, 0-5 on the road in conference play, are expected to have forward Jonathan Holmes and point guard Myck Kabongo available after both returned Wednesday.
Holmes, the team leader with 6.8 rebounds per game, missed five games with a broken hand while Kabongo started and finished with 13 points and seven assists in his season debut following an NCAA suspension.
It’s uncertain if Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis will be out of the starting five for a second straight game, but the sophomore guards and team’s top two scorers will likely need to produce to counter Kansas’ guard rotation of McLemore, Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe.
Kansas is ranked first in the nation in field-goal defense at 36.11, just ahead of Texas’ mark of 36.13. A big reason for the Jayhawks’ success is Withey, the reigning league defensive player of the year who is third in the country with 4.1 blocks per game.
After breaking Greg Ostertag’s school record of 258 blocks Monday, Withey needs two to pass Texas’ Chris Mihm for the Big 12 record with 265.
“I’m not satisfied, obviously,” said Withey, who had three blocks last month against the Longhorns. “I want to break the conference record.”