Kansas University junior point guard Naadir Tharpe remembers the excitement and enthusiasm, the utter frenzy in Allen Fieldhouse the last time the Jayhawks wrapped up at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season basketball championship at home.
“It happened my freshman year when we beat Missouri. That was the game that clinched it,” Tharpe said of an 87-86 overtime win over the Tigers on Feb. 25, 2012 — a game that gave KU a piece of its eighth-straight league title with two games left on the schedule.
“It’s my third year here. To be able to clinch at home, that would be good for the fans, good for Kansas, good for the players and most importantly, coach,” he added of Bill Self, who has directed KU to nine straight league titles heading into today’s home game against Oklahoma.
KU (21-6, 12-2) enters the 8 p.m. Big Monday battle three games up on Oklahoma (20-7, 9-5), Texas and Iowa State with four to play. So a win tonight would assure at least a share of a 10th-straight crown with three games to spare.
“It feels good,” Tharpe said. “It’s my third year, and in my third year being able to be the head guy and get 10 straight, you know ... it’s big time,” he said.
UNLV (1983-92, Big West) and UConn (1951-60, Yankee) have won 10 consecutive conference titles throughout history. Gonzaga won 11 straight West Coast Conference crowns from 2001-11. UCLA won 13 in a row in the Pac-8 and Pac-10 from 1967 to ‘79.
“I don’t think I need to fire them up at all,” Tharpe said of his teammates, who are flying high after Saturday’s 85-54 rout of Texas in Allen Fieldhouse. “I think they are just as excited as I am. It’s all a matter of what we do on Monday. OU is a good team.”
KU has won 13 of the 17 Big 12 regular-season titles (includes ties with Kansas State last year; Texas in 2007-08 and 05-06; Oklahoma in 2004-05). KU’s 56 conference titles are the most in NCAA Div. I. Kentucky is second with 51 and Penn third at 37.
“That was our first goal to start the year off, win our 10th straight Big 12 championship. That is still the goal,” said freshman guard Frank Mason, who scored 14 points in 18 minutes against the Longhorns on Saturday. “Right now we’re taking it one at a time so we can reach that goal.”
Last year, KU shared the title with Kansas State after losing its league finale at Baylor.
“We’ve been fortunate here the last several years ... not every day you can clinch at least a piece of the championship at home,” Self said. “I think our guys will put forth the concentration to give us the best chance to do that. We will not take it for granted. It won’t be easy. OU will spread you and drive you. It’s what we have the hardest time guarding.”
Coach Lon Kruger’s Sooners have a 4-3 record in Big 12 road games this year, second in the league to KU’s 5-2 mark. The Sooners rank second to Iowa State in scoring offense (82.8 ppg), but are last in scoring defense (76.8). KU is fourth in scoring offense (79.7) and fourth in defense (69.1). In league-only games, KU is first in scoring offense (81.5 ppg) and OU third (78.6). The Jayhawks are tied for second in scoring defense (69.9); OU is tied for seventh (75.9).
“The way Oklahoma plays I think is a great way to play on the road,” Self said. “There’s a lot of isolation, going one on one. If a couple guys are having good nights ... Lon is so good at moving guys around and getting guys the ball with an unused dribble in certain areas.”
KU won the first meeting, 90-83, on Jan. 8 in Norman. OU’s Cameron Clark led all scorers with 32 points, while Buddy Hield had 18. KU was led by Wayne Selden, who scored 24 points. Perry Ellis had 22 and Tharpe 17.
“We were fortunate the first time we played. We played well,” Self said. “They also missed some shots (OU was 6-of-19 from three). We’ve got to do a good job defending the three and guarding the ball.”
OU, which has the league’s top rebounder in Ryan Spangler (9.6 rpg), downed K-State, 86-73, on Saturday in Norman, for its third win in four games. OU led, 41-22, at halftime.
“They are coming off a big win,” KU senior center Tarik Black said. “They beat a team that beat us (KSU). I watched the beginning of that game. They were shooting well. We better be ready because this team (OU) is dangerous.”
Of course, so is a KU team that is trying to assure a 10th straight league title with a starting lineup of three freshmen, one sophomore and one junior.
“This is as good as our league has ever been and we’re up three games,” Self said. “Our young guys have done a good job staying up in the moment and playing game to game.
“When we play well we can play with anybody, without question,” Self added. “When we are hitting on all cylinders I think we can play with anybody. We are not consistently doing it enough.”
This KU team has an intangible that could take it a long way, notes senior Black.
“There’s no animosity in the locker room,” Black said. “Everybody loves each other and wants to see each other shine. One through five, we want to see each other perform at the highest level. We want to win together. I’ve not heard of too many teams winning that don’t have good chemistry. You have to have a bond, at least a situation where everybody wants to win. We have a situation we actually like each other and want to win.”
Lyle coming to town: JaQuan Lyle, a 6-5 senior shooting guard from Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, will attend today’s KU-OU game as part of an official recruiting visit. The country’s No. 22-rated player attended Oklahoma State’s 84-62 victory over Texas Tech on Saturday in Stillwater, Okla. He’s already visited Oregon and is set to visit Memphis on March 7.
“If I’m not sold on one of those schools I will take another visit to Providence or Georgetown,” he told Zagsblog.com. He’s good buddies with KU signee Cliff Alexander.
Lyle, who turns 18 today, told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch he plans to make a decision over spring break, March 15-23.
This, that: KU has won nine league titles in a row. Belmont (Atlantic Sun/Ohio Valley East) and Murray State (Ohio Valley West) are next at four in a row ... KU leads the series, 140-65. KU has won 11 of the last 12 meetings. ... KU is 43-7 vs. OU in Allen and has won 12 in a row over OU at home ... Self is 12-4 all-time against Oklahoma, including 12-2 while at KU. Kruger is 6-14 versus Kansas, 1-4 while at OU.