By Matt Tait.
It had about as much hype as a match-up set less than 24 hours earlier could, but when the ball was tipped, Saturday's Big 12 Championship title game between Kansas and Kansas State was like so many others the Sunflower Showdown has seen in recent years — all Kansas.
Although the Jayhawks did not truly pull away until the game's final 10 minutes, they also never were seriously threatened and rolled to their third win in three days, 70-54, over the Wildcats.
Jeff Withey, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, dominated the interior, even if his numbers did not show it. Time and time again, KSU drove it to the rim and time and time again, Withey's presence forced the Wildcats to throw up wild shots that had next to no chance of going in.
Withey finished with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Offensively, both teams started slowly, but KU's 42-percent first-half shooting clip was far better than the 22.2-percent mark thrown up by K-State. That set the tone for the rest of the game and the Wildcats never crawled closer than nine points after KU stretched the lead to double digits for the first time about five minutes into the second half.
While Withey led the way for KU, freshman Perry Ellis — also named to the all-tournament team — followed up his sensational semifinal game against Iowa State with another solid showing. Ellis finished with 12 points and six rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting.
Perhaps most impressive about KU's run to its ninth Big 12 tournament title in 17 seasons is that red-shirt freshman Ben McLemore scored just 15 points in the semifinal and title games combined. That, of course, came after McLemore's 24-point performance in a quarterfinal win over Texas Tech.
Here’s a quick look back at some of Saturday's action.
• The game turned when: The Jayhawks responded to K-State's quick start to the second half with a 12-3 run that turned a three-point lead a couple of minutes into a 12-point lead four minutes later. Kevin Young, Jeff Withey, Naadir Tharpe and Travis Releford all contributed buckets during the knockout stretch.
• Offensive highlight: At the 13:45 mark of the second half, Withey ripped down a rebound after a missed shot by KSU and immediately flipped an outlet pass to Naadir Tharpe. A couple of dribbles later, Tharpe zipped a bounce pass that looked to have eyes between three bodies running down the floor. The pass landed softly in Travis Releford's hands and two steps later he dunked it to put KU up by 10. After the flush, Tharpe flexed and flashed a tough stare at whoever wanted to see it.
• Defensive highlight: With K-State trailing 8-6 at the 13:08 mark of the first half, Wildcats senior Rodney McGruder drove the left baseline and found himself wide open with a clear path to the rim. As McGruder rose up to slam the ball with two hands, KU's Jamari Traylor came across the lane, threw up a wall at the hoop and blocked the shot. The collision sent McGruder crashing to the floor but replays showed that the block was mostly clean. It also was a heck of an athletic play by Traylor on one of the best offensive players in the conference.
• Key stat: Field goal percentage. Not only did K-State shoot just 22 percent in the first half and 35 percent for the game, but the Wildcats also struggled from long range, hitting just six of 24 three-point attempts. Kansas, meanwhile, shot 49 percent for the game (55 in the second half) and 50 percent (7-of-14) from three-point range.
• Up next: The Jayhawks ended the regular season with a 29-5 record and will now wait for Sunday's unleashing of the NCAA Tournament bracket (5 p.m. CST) to find out its next opponent. It seems like a lock that KU will open the postseason in Kansas City, Mo., next Friday as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
KU wins the Big 12 tournament championship.
Nice shot by Irving there.