It’s been a long time coming, but Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks can now officially be mentioned in the same sentence as the great UCLA teams of the 1960s and ’70s.
KU wrapped up at least a share of its 13th-consecutive Big 12 regular-season title Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks’ 87-68 victory over TCU tied the league-title streak produced by the Bruins from 1967-79.
Four Jayhawks scored at least 15 points as the latest conference champions improved to 25-3 overall and 13-2 in league play with three games left on the schedule. And though none of the current KU players saw Brandon Rush’s jersey retirement ceremony at halftime, their second-half effort looked like it could’ve been inspired by the former Kansas great.
Leading by one at intermission, KU’s cushion grew to as many as 19 points down the stretch. Senior point guard Frank Mason III, fittingly, led the way with 20 points. Junior Devonte’ Graham scored 17, freshman sensation Josh Jackson added 15, and as a bit of a surprise, so did backup big man Carlton Bragg.
View a gallery of images from Wednesday night's game between the Jayhawks and Horned Frogs at Allen Fieldhouse.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: The Jayhawks returned from halftime visibly aware of the history awaiting them on this night.
KU’s energy out of the break went to another level — the kind the players have had to reserve for the final three to four minutes typically during this year’s run through the Big 12.
On his 22nd birthday, Graham, scored eight of KU’s first nine points of the second half and it seemed to ignite his teammates not just on offense, but on the glass, defensively and everywhere else imaginable.
Kansas out-rebounded the Horned Frogs 25-12 in the final 20 minutes and out-scored the visitors 47-29 in the second half.
• Offensive highlight: It seemed following a stellar first half that included big-time offensive rebounds and jams that Bragg had come through with the most jaw-dropping plays of the evening.
But, you know, Jackson still plays for KU.
With Mason pushing the ball in transition on the left side of the floor on a two-on-one break early in the second half, Jackson had an easy path to the stratosphere above the rim on the weak side.
KU’s senior point guard hoisted a lob toward the backboard, and Jackson sky-walked to meet the ball, briefly grabbing it with two hands before violently sending it through the hoop with his right to make it a 51-47 Kansas lead.
The electric finish not only assured KU fans, players and coaches alike his right-ankle injury scare in the first half was behind him, but also characterized the zeal with which the Jayhawks came out of the locker room at halftime.
• Defensive highlight: The birthday boy was feeling extra salty on the defensive end of the floor versus the Horned Frogs.
Ahead of the first media timeout, Graham saw TCU big man Karviar Shepherd on his way to the rim for what looked to be an easy, two-handed jam. However, the 6-foot-2 junior KU guard wasn’t having it.
Graham didn’t just contest the 6-11 Shepherd, he swatted the would-be jam in the fashion you would expect out of his much larger teammate, Landen Lucas.
The rim denial led to a Svi Mykhailiuk 3-pointer, and might have even inspired backup guard Lagerald Vick on the ensuing trip to the defensive end of the floor. Vick smacked away a layup try from Frogs guard Jaylen Fisher for another stop as the two teams were just getting started in a competitive first half.
• Key stat: Field-goal percentage defense. In a throwback performance worthy of the Rush-era Jayhawks, KU limited TCU to 39-percent shooting in the game, after holding the Horned Frogs to 40.5 percent in the first half.
• Up next: The Jayhawks will be back in action looking to win the Big 12 outright Saturday night, in Austin, Texas, when KU takes on Texas (5 p.m., ESPN).
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