Sooners face tall task at Big 12 champ Kansas
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Throughout the season, Kansas has gotten away with little depth.
Concerns exist about average minutes played, especially with senior guard Frank Mason and junior guard Devonte’ Graham threatening to each become season leaders in minutes for any Jayhawks who ever played under 14th-year coach Bill Self. Sherron Collins holds that mark with his average of 35.1 minutes in 2008-09.
Obviously, Self will take any late bloomer who wants to emerge down the stretch, especially since top-ranked Kansas (26-3, 14-2 Big 12) has clinched outright possession of its 13th consecutive conference title. The Jayhawks will play their final home game Monday against Oklahoma (10-18, 4-12) in Allen Fieldhouse.
One backup, junior forward Dwight Coleby, did provide significant help in the Jayhawks’ last game, a 77-67 victory Saturday at Texas.
The 6-foot-9 transfer from Ole Miss has been slowed by a difficult recovery from an ACL tear he suffered 16 months ago. At Texas, however, Coleby contributed 12 points and four rebounds in 13 minutes, his longest stint in Big 12 play.
“He looks a lot more athletic than he did two months ago,” Self said. “So hopefully we’re going to see that player moving forward.”
The immediate contribution Coleby made with two buckets and two free throws after entering at the midway point of the first half helped launch a 15-2 run that gave the Jayhawks some cushion.
Starting center Landen Lucas has gladly welcomed additional help of late from both Coleby and sophomore forward Carlton Bragg.
“I was their sidekick out there for the last couple games and that’s great, especially this time of year,” said Lucas, a 6-foot-10 senior who leads Kansas with an 8.3 rebounding average. “We’ve got the league clinched up and we’re just looking for guys to step up and get a little rhythm.”
The toll extended minutes have taken on starters, a run to another conference championship and a series of off-court issues have all been matters the Jayhawks minimized with continually strong play.
“These guys have been on such an emotional roller coaster for a couple of months,” said Self, “and you just think sooner or later they’re going to crash.”
That rarely, if ever, happens on Senior Night, which Kansas will observe Monday. The Jayhawks have won 33 consecutive home finales.
Oklahoma is mired in a last-place tie in the Big 12, but coming off its most dominant performance in league play. The Sooners stomped Kansas State 81-51 on Saturday to give coach Lon Kruger his 600th career victory. Oklahoma is his sixth Division I stop.
“I think about how happy I am for these guys to get this one in this year, which has been a grind,” Kruger said after his milestone win. “But they’ve hung in there and continued to work at it and dig in to get better, and that’s not easy to do.”
The win against Kansas State came after a stretch of nine defeats in 10 games for the Sooners. Although they have crashed hard since reaching the Final Four a year ago, several newcomers provide promise Oklahoma will take into the offseason.
Without senior guard Jordan Woodard, who led the Sooners with a 14.6-point average before suffering a season-ending ACL tear on Feb. 11, young players have had to deliver even more. Guard Kameron McGusty and forward Kristian Doolittle are freshmen who lead Oklahoma in scoring (13.9) and rebounding (6.2), respectively.