By Matt Tait.
It's hard to tell whether this one will be remembered for Bill Self's explosion or that of Perry Ellis.
In a much-anticipated and hard-fought Big 12 Championship semifinal at Sprint Center than Kansas University men's basketball team advanced to Saturday's title game with an 88-73 victory over the Cyclones, KU's third of the season over one of the toughest match-ups it faced all year.
Iowa State raced out to an early 12-4 lead and, behind a couple of three-pointers and a very vocal fan base, the Cyclones looked to be in complete control. But KU, which followed the lead of its general, scrapped and clawed and responded to the deficit with a 20-9 run.
Midway during the second half, KU was slapped with a pair of technical fouls, the first leading directly to the second.
After hitting a jumper in front of the Iowa State bench, Ben McLemore did a little dance and turned to say something to the Cyclones bench. He was immediately hit with a technical foul. That's when Self flipped his lid. For four or five straight possessions, Self unleashed a verbal assault on the officials before finally earning a technical foul of his own.
Iowa State benefited from a couple of free points, but could not grab the momentum, as the intensity seemed to benefit and fire up Kansas.
KU led by four at the break and then played with a double-digit lead for most of the second half, largely thanks to Ellis, who poured in 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting to pace the Jayhawks.
Jeff Withey (14), Elijah Johnson (14) and Ben McLemore (10) also reached double digits and Naadir Tharpe scored eight points and dished eight assists.
Here’s a quick look back at some of Friday's action:
• The game turned when: The second half began. A big three-pointer late in the first half by Travis Releford gave KU a four-point lead and a little over two minutes into the second half the lead ballooned to double digits. Elijah Johnson scored three times in the second-half spurt and Withey's first bucket of the second half put KU up 44-33.
• Offensive highlight: With 3:40 to play in the first half, KU senior Travis Releford missed a three-pointer but followed his shot, collided with an ISU player and deflected the ball to Tharpe, who quickly kicked to a charging Ellis. Ellis took care of the rest with a monster jam that gave the Jayhawks a two-point lead. KU never trailed the rest of the way.
• Defensive highlight: It wasn't exactly a defensive play in the true sense of the word, but it did steal KU a possession and a couple of points for Kansas. With 13:04 to play and KU leading by 11, Elijah Johnson misfired on a three-point try from the wing. McLemore flew high above three Cyclones to tap the ball and keep it alive. The tap fell right into the hands of Withey, who immediately went up and was fouled. Withey hit the free throw and KU's grew into the teens.
• Key stat: Three-point shooting. After giving up 14 and 17 three-pointers in consecutive overtime games against ISU, KU's defense fared much better in this one. The Cyclones made just nine of 33 from downtown while KU hit five triples in nearly half as many tries (5-for-19).
• Up next: The victory moved the Jayhawks into Saturday's championship game, where they will face the winner of tonight's other semifinal between Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
KU advances to the Big 12 title game at 5 p.m. Saturday.