After playing, and winning, two hard-fought battles against Kansas State during the regular season, the Kansas University men’s basketball team made it clear it was not interested in a third.
In the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Championship at Sprint Center, top-seeded Kansas jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the first half and never looked back, rolling to a 85-63 victory over the Wildcats.
Kansas, which shot 57 percent from the floor and looked incredibly smooth and efficient on offense all afternoon, got contributions from all kinds of players in this one. But few were as impressive as the one delivered by senior Perry Ellis, who, three years ago on this very floor, enjoyed his breakout as a freshman. Thursday, Ellis finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting and 6 rebounds and played with the kind of fire that made it clear that he’s interested in capping his Big 12 tournament career the same way he began it — like a beast.
Devonté Graham also had a memorable day in the win over the Wildcats, particularly in the first half. Graham finished with 11 points, 8 assists and 3 steals on 5-of-8 shooting in the first half.
Frank Mason III (16 points, 7 assists) and Carlton Bragg (career-high 12 points, 7 1st half, on 5-of-6 shooting) helped pace the KU offense.
Defensively, the Jayhawks (28-4) were up and down throughout the first half but played hard from start to finish. They refused to let up even after getting up by 20 points or more midway through the second half and looked like a team hellbent on developing its killer instinct heading into crunch time of the season.
The victory was the third, and by far most decisive, for the Jayhawks this season over K-State (17-16) and also marked KU’s 12th consecutive win overall.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the action:
• The game turned when: Kansas built an early 17-7 lead and established an early cushion that allowed the Jayhawks to play freely the rest of the way. K-State, as it has done all season, never quit playing and hung around down 15 for most of the game until a 12-5 Kansas run midway through the second half turned a 61-45 lead into a 73-50 lead and set the tone for the finish.
• Offensive highlight: After K-State’s zone defense swarmed him for most of the first half, KU senior Ellis caught the ball in the short corner after an offensive rebound by Brannen Greene and immediately drove it to the lane. After two hard dribbles, Ellis hesitated, which bought him space, and then launched a soft shot off of his back foot from 10 feet. The shot hit nothing but net and Ellis calmly ran back down to the other end. Later in the first half, Ellis struck again. This time after a careless turnover by K-State, which Mason tracked down and proceeded to sprint toward the rim. With Ellis trailing, Mason dropped a perfect pass off to the KU senior, who soared through the lane and flushed the dunk with one hand. That bucket gave KU a 45-30 halftime edge. Early in the second half, Ellis flashed his favor of the fierce dunk once again, finishing off a sweet lob from Graham to put KU up 55-37 with 15 minutes to play.
• Defensive highlight: It’s hard to say if it was the steal, the save or the pass that capped it all off. Either way, Graham’s gem of a play midway through the first half that led to an easy break-away layup for Mason was something to watch. Even before Mason finished the layup, Graham was back in front of the KU bench celebrating the score and getting the Jayhawks’ energy up. That has 100 percent become his role on this team. That and many, many other things. With KU leading by 26 late in the game, K-State’s Brian Rohleder stole a pass and raced up the floor toward the rim. As he rose for his layup, Jamari Traylor flew through the air and swatted it out of bounds with his full palm.
• Key stat: KU’s offense was terrific in this one and the Jayhawks finished with 24 assists on 32 field goals. Graham led with 8 assists and Mason added 7, with Wayne Selden Jr. and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk chipping in 3 apiece.
• Up next: The win moved the Jayhawks into Friday’s semifinals, where they’ll face No. 4 seed Baylor (a 75-61 winner over Texas in Thursday’s early game) at 6 p.m. at Sprint Center, with a berth in the Big 12 title game on the line.
— See what people were saying about KU’s quarterfinal vs. rival K-State during KUsports.com’s live coverage