KU visits Oklahoma St in crucial Big 12 battle
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - When the Jayhawks are having fun, they're good.
They seem to be back to having fun.
After losing three straight games for the first time in eight years, Kansas bounced back to beat Kansas State 83-62 last Monday night, and then pounded Texas 73-47 on Saturday.
Now, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks are just a half-game back of the Wildcats in the Big 12 race, and can pull back into a tie for first when they visit No. 14 Oklahoma State - also a half-game back - Wednesday night.
"We put ourselves in a tough position," coach Bill Self said, "knowing there's very little margin for error, but our guys usually respond pretty favorably when the stage is right."
Self is the first to admit that the Jayhawks (21-4, 9-3) were too tight in losses to Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma. But they managed to break out of their funk against the Wildcats, and then kept the good times rolling last week.
Or dancing, as it were.
Yes, the Jayhawks were in such a quirky-happy mood that they filmed their own version of the Harlem Shake, the viral dance craze sweeping the nation. It begins with Self drawing up plays on a dry erase board, wiping the slate clean, and then writing "Harlem Shake" in big letters.
It segues into star freshman Ben McLemore wearing a ridiculous chicken head and dancing in the middle of the locker room. Shot-blocking center Jeff Withey rocks an afro, Travis Releford and Naadir Tharpe are dressed preposterously - in fact, the whole team got in on the joke.
The video had been viewed on YouTube nearly 1.3 million times by Tuesday afternoon.
All the silliness aside, the Jayhawks are looser now than they have been in months, and all those positive vibes couldn't be coming at a much better time.
Kansas has won eight consecutive Big 12 titles, but that reign is on the rocks. It wasn't long ago that the Cowboys ended the Jayhawks' lengthy home winning streak, 85-80 on Feb. 2, and a loss Wednesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena would leave them a game behind Kansas State and Oklahoma State (19-5, 9-3).
"Oklahoma State is a tough team," Releford said. "They came here and got us. We know we have to be on our game, go down there and do what we're supposed to."
Cowboys coach Travis Ford sounded surprised when he was asked about the Jayhawks' recent three-game skid, pointing out that they'd lost one game before it all season.
"They've still only lost three or four. They're still one of the best teams in the country," he said. "I think coach Self said it himself, losing a couple games can happen to anybody."
Still, Self said the game may be the biggest between the two teams since his first year at Kansas, when Eddie Sutton was still leading the Cowboys. The Jayhawks finished tied for second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma State, which advanced all the way to the Final Four.
"I'd anticipate Gallagher-Iba rocking," Self said. "We're going to have to bring a great focus and, beyond focusing and competing, we're going to have to execute as well."
The Cowboys have been executing very well of late, winning seven in a row. The last two at home, however, have come in overtime.
"They're making me grayer and grayer by the day," Ford said, "but very proud of them."
Freshman guard Marcus Smart has keyed the surge, averaging 20.2 points over the past six games. His 70 steals lead the Big 12 by a wide margin.
Smart and sophomore Le'Bryan Nash recorded season highs with 28 and 26 points, respectively, in an 84-79 overtime win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
Leading scorer Markel Brown (15.8 ppg) notched his season high of 28 in the win at Kansas while Smart added 25.
McLemore scored 23 and tops Kansas with 16.7 per game.