Kansas City, Mo. — It’s yet another Sunflower Showdown slated for the Big 12 tournament semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday on ESPN, and the top-seeded Kansas basketball team could not be more excited about it.
As if getting a shot at fourth-seeded Kansas State was not noteworthy enough, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks will head into the battle on the heels of a huge, 82-68 victory over Oklahoma State in Thursday’s quarterfinals that both avenged two regular season losses to the Cowboys and proved that Kansas could win without starting center Udoka Azubuike, who sat out because of a knee injury.
Azubuike, who Kansas coach Bill Self on Thursday night said was “feeling better,” will again be in street clothes when the Jayhawks and Wildcats tip off for a third time at Sprint Center.
View a gallery of images from the Jayhawks' quarterfinal matchup in the Big 12 Tournament against the Cowboys.
But that will not do anything to temper the vibe inside what figures to be a divided house.
“It’s another rivalry game. The place will be packed and juiced and it’ll be a great game,” said KU senior Devonte’ Graham.
KU’s two meetings with the Wildcats (22-10) this season featured very different games. In their 73-72 victory in Lawrence, the Jayhawks needed a defensive stop of a last-second shot by K-State’s Barry Brown Jr. to emerge victorious. In a 70-56, Big Monday win in Manhattan, KU jumped out of the gates early and led for more than 37 minutes — trailing just once at 2-0. The Jayhawks also used a zone defense to slow down KSU standout Dean Wade.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game, in-state rivalry, and we just have to go out like we did tonight and just fight, battle,” said KU sophomore Malik Newman after scoring 30 points to help KU race past Oklahoma State on Thursday. “The farther we can advance in this tournament, the more confidence we’ll have and the better we’ll be when we get (Azubuike) back.”
After having just proven the old adage that it’s tough for one team to beat another three times in the same season by topping Oklahoma State, the Jayhawks enter the next round determined to prove the other side of the equation can be true, too.
“We just have to go watch film, go over their plays, lock in on scouting report and come out with a lot of energy," Graham said, "not thinking that just because we beat them twice they’re going to come in and lay down."
KU and K-State will be facing off in the Big 12 semifinals for the first time since 2007. Kansas is 9-0 all-time against the Wildcats in the Big 12’s postseason showcase.
OSU an NCAA Tournament team?
After last weekend’s loss to Oklahoma State, Self was adamant about the fact that the Cowboys deserved a spot in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
After beating them on Thursday afternoon, Self’s thoughts remained unchanged.
“Well, I’m biased because they played us better than anybody has all year, twice, and I think they’re without question a tournament team,” Self said. “I look at the things the pundits put up there, the blind resumes, whatever, surely how you have played down the stretch and those sorts of things matter. In our league, if you go 6-4 down the stretch, you’ve played well, considering all 10 games are monster games. So I don’t think there is any doubt (OSU coach) Mike (Boynton) and his team deserve to be in, and I would be very disappointed if they’re not.”
Boynton and the Cowboys agreed, based largely on how they fare in the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s new criteria of categorizing victories into quadrants.
“If that’s what truly matters, if that’s the reason they created it, to evaluate how you do against the best teams, then it’s not a question,” Boynton said after Thursday’s loss. “We won at Kansas, at West Virginia and at Iowa State. I’m not sure the last time anybody in our league did that all in one year. We also beat Texas Tech, who will probably be a top 3 or 4 seed. … If you just look at our team, watch us play, we have beaten the best teams that we’ve played all year and that should count for something.”
Lagerald Vick’s 3-pointer with 3:59 to play in Thursday’s victory set a KU record for most 3-pointers in a single season. Kansas has now made 319 3-pointers this season, surpassing the previous record of 318, which was set by the 2016-17 team.
KU’s 20 3-point attempts on Thursday also established a new record for most 3-point attempts in a single season, with 802, surpassing the old mark of 787.
Senior sharpshooter Svi Mykhailiuk, who made 2 of 5 3-point attempts in the victory, now has 98 3-pointers this season and is just two 3-point makes short of becoming the fourth Jayhawk in program history to hit 100 3-pointers in a season.
Despite closing in on that mark, Mykhailiuk was more impressed and more focused on his team’s better defensive effort vs. Oklahoma State.
“All of our guards can score 25-plus any game,” he said. “So for us to win we just have to come ready and come with our minds right. Defense wins championships and we know for us to go far in the tournament, we have to play defense and get rebounds.”
Life is good on top
Thursday’s victory made the Jayhawks 28-7 all-time as a No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament and 19-3 overall in Big 12 tourney quarterfinals. KU now leads the conference with 19 semifinal appearances all-time and is 12-6 in its 18 previous semifinal battles.
Overall, the No. 1 seed in this event is 41-12 overall and 13-5 all-time in semifinals, winning eight of its last 10 appearances.
As for all-time conference tournament appearances, Kansas is now 72-27 overall and will be playing in its 37th conference semifinal.
This and that ...
KU’s victory gave the Jayhawks their 25th win of the season and extended their NCAA record of consecutive 25-win seasons to 13. That streak dates back to the 2005-06 season ... KU is now 10-4 away from Allen Fieldhouse this season and 36-9 all-time inside Sprint Center, including a 1-1 mark this season ... KU leads the all-time series with Oklahoma State 114-59 and is 11-4 all-time against the Cowboys in conference tournament action.