No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks (24-6 overall, 13-4 Big 12) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (17-13 overall, 7-10 Big 12)
Time: 3 p.m. | Location: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater, Okla.
TV: ESPN | Radio: IMG Jayhawk Radio Network
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1. 'Show them a team they didn't see'
The Jayhawks have been on a mini revenge tour of late, paying back Oklahoma and Texas Tech for previous conference losses during their run to a 14th consecutive Big 12 title.
The final team the Jayhawks still need to pay back is Oklahoma State, which walked into Allen Fieldhouse in early February as a huge underdog and handed Kansas a stunning five-point loss.
Although the Cowboys played well in that one — shooting 52 percent from the floor, 44 percent from 3-point range and outrebounding the Jayhawks by seven — KU came away from that one more disturbed by the way it played. Avenging that is the main motivation for playing well in Stillwater today.
“Revenge may be part of it,” KU coach Bill Self said. “But I hope our mindset is to go down there and show them a team that they didn't see here in Lawrence, because they didn't see the best of us. In large part because they whipped us, but I like for them to see a much better team in Stillwater.”
Added sophomore Mitch Lightfoot: “It's not revenge, it's more of us fulfilling our potential and knowing what we could've done, not doing things that we normally do. I just feel like we're going to go down there and do what we know we can do.”
2. Make it hard for OSU
Last time these two met, Kansas allowed Oklahoma State to get comfortable pretty much anywhere and everywhere on the floor.
The Cowboys, who like to play fast and rank as the second highest tempo team in the Big 12 (at 69.9 possessions per game) were able to get in transition and pick their spots to run while keeping the Jayhawks from having much success doing the same.
Even though the Cowboys turned it over 16 times in that game — compared to just 11 for Kansas — it was OSU that made those turnovers count, outscoring KU 20-9 in points off of turnovers.
And, finally, whenever Oklahoma State did miss a shot, which was rare given their terrific field goal and 3-point percentages, the Cowboys were able to get the offensive rebound 16 times, or 47 percent of the time (much higher than their 33 percent season average), and that led to a huge, 26-7 advantage for the visitors in second-chance points.
If KU allows the Cowboys to have similar success in any of those areas in this one, the Jayhawks could be in trouble. But given the way they've played much tighter and tougher in all but one game since that loss to OSU, it seems like a safe bet to assume the Jayhawks will show up today with the goal of making life miserable for Oklahoma State, which knocked in 12 of 27 3-point shots in its win in Lawrence.
3. All about Azubuike
After dominating on Senior Night to the tune of 10-of-11 shooting for 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks, Kansas sophomore Udoka Azubuike has positioned himself to start peaking at the right time.
And today's clash with the Cowboys could aid his quest.
“I do think the guys are playing through Dok more,” Self said of his massive center. “He's, without question, playing the best ball he's played all year.”
The last time these two met, Azubuike went for 20 points and five rebounds but played just 21 minutes because of foul trouble.
If Azubuike is able to stay on the floor a little longer this time, it's not hard to envision him pushing 30 points, given the Cowboys' lack of a big body that can handle KU's 7-foot center.
That will be an area the Jayhawks look to exploit and take advantage of throughout the postseason, and giving Azubuike one final tuneup with very little pressure could be just what the doctor ordered for this Kansas team.
OSU guard Kendall Smith vs. KU guards Devonte' Graham and Malik Newman
After falling behind the Cowboys and trying to stage a furious rally to avoid their third defeat this season on their home floor, the Jayhawks were stymied by the strong play of senior guard Kendall Smith.
Time after time in the first meeting, Smith had the ball in his hands and needed to make a play. And time after time, the 6-foot-3 guard who started his career at UNLV and transferred to OSU from Cal-State Northridge delivered.
Smith is a tough matchup for the Jayhawks because of his good size and physical style. But he becomes even tougher because he can score anywhere on the floor, and he knows how to get to the free-throw line. He went to the line just three times against KU in the first meeting, but cashed two big shots late to help seal the victory.
For the season, Smith is third on his team in trips to the line and he likes to have the ball in his hands in crunch time. That's not because he's a ball hog, though.
Smith, who ranks as OSU's second leading scorer at 12.5 points per game behind Jeffrey Carroll's 15.3, is one of this team's main distributors (86 assists in 24 starts) and will be a big time dual-threat challenge for whichever KU player is guarding him.
Just because Kansas does not have much to play for on paper does not mean the Jayhawks are treating it that way.
For starters, the Jayhawks have gone 102 consecutive home-and-home, regular season series without being swept — dating back to the pre-Self days, when Iowa State swept KU in 2000-01 — and will need to bring great effort and energy to the road, one more time, to keep that streak intact.
In addition, Self said earlier this week that his team would play to win and would not rest guys just because they already had the Big 12 wrapped up. And the main reason for that is twofold. First, Self sees the potential implications for KU's seeding in the NCAA Tournament and wants to put his team in as good a position as possible entering the Big Dance. Second, the Jayhawks are just now starting to hit their stride and Self is not at all interested in messing with their momentum.
Beyond that, Self and his team are well aware of what they will be facing in an Oklahoma State team fighting for its postseason life. The only way to compete with that type of urgency is to show up ready to match it.
“I see them as having a chance to get in the tournament,” Self said of Mike Boynton's squad. “They go 8-10 in our league; how could they not be under serious consideration if you go 8-10 in our league? They're talking about everybody else in our league getting in at 8-10, why shouldn't Oklahoma State be considered? If they beat us, they would have beaten Kansas twice, Texas Tech and West Virginia. So they would have had four wins against the best three teams in our league. And they would have, you know, had a huge nonconference win against Florida State. So I think they deserve to be in the consideration. So they'll have a ton to play for.”
Kansas leads the all-time series with Oklahoma State, 113-58, including victories in three of the last four meetings and 11 of the last 16. The Jayhawks hold a slim, 36-34 advantage in games played in Stillwater and enter this one as a 4.5-point favorite in the eyes of Las Vegas.
No. 6 Kansas
G – Devonte’ Graham, 6-2, 185, Sr.
G – Malik Newman, 6-3, 190, Soph.
G – Svi Mykhailiuk, 6-8, 205, Sr.
G – Lagerald Vick, 6-5, 175, Jr.
C – Udoka Azubuike, 7-0, 280, Soph.
G – Kendall Smith, 6-3, 190, Sr.
G – Jeffrey Carroll, 6-6, 220, Sr.
G – Lindy Waters III, 6-6, 205, Soph.
F – Cameron McGriff, 6-7, 220, Soph.
F – Mitchell Solomon, 6-9, 250, Sr.