Kansas Emerging From a Tough Stretch of the Big 12 Slate
Take a deep breath, Kansas fans. After a three-game losing streak in mid-January, the bounce-back has begun for the Jayhawks. The skid came to a screeching halt after a big 77-68 road win over Kentucky.
It was a complete team effort, something the Jayhawks had been lacking at times this season.
Jalen Wilson, K.J. Adams, Gradey Dick, and Kevin McCullar Jr all finished the game in double digits. Ernest Udeh Jr, Zuby Ejiofer and M.J. Rice all combined for 20+ minutes of action with Adams in foul trouble and the young big men stepped up their game.
After getting back on track in a win over Kentucky, it was on to part two of the Sunflower Showdown. It was only two weeks prior when Kansas lost 83-82 in OT in Manhattan to Kansas State. This time, it was the Wildcats who came into the game as the higher-ranked team at No. 7 in the nation. The Jayhawks were right behind and ready to pounce at No. 8.
The always lively Allen Fieldhouse was even more vibrant at this game. The announced attendance was 18,300 in a 16,300-capacity building and students were actually being turned away prior to the game. It was an incredible atmosphere in an environment that is known in the college basketball universe to be one of the best in the country.
In what could be called a rare game to this point in the season, KU actually got off to a hot start at home against the Wildcats. Imagine that: not falling behind early in a game helped the Jayhawks to a 90-78 win.
Jalen Wilson and DeJuan Harris were hitting three-pointers early and often and that helped push the Jayhawks ahead. Wilson led the team in scoring with 20 but Harris tied for a career-high of 18 points. McCullar had another solid game adding 16 points and 13 rebounds. It was his third straight game with a double-double. Dick struggled from the field again but finished with 9 points and 5 rebounds. Even when Dick isn’t scoring, he has been giving the Jayhawks big energy on the defensive end and flying around trying to grab loose balls.
Zack Clemence was able to make his presence felt, playing meaningful minutes for the first time all season with 15. Clemence hit a big three-pointer and he helped KU build a double-digit lead in the first half. Udeh added 10 minutes of playing time and gave the Jayhawks 6 rebounds.
The big takeaway from these two wins is how Kansas can continue winning this way moving forward. Head coach Bill Self is finally utilizing his bench in an appropriate manner and getting some of his big men into the rotation. Early in the season, there was not much movement across the bench unless a player was in foul trouble. The Jayhawks were able to get away with that for a while, but it started catching up to them in conference play.
The Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball and Self is adjusting on the fly and giving himself and his team a chance to make another push for a regular season conference title. The Jayhawks’ win over Kansas State puts the league in a quagmire near the top of the conference standings. Texas sits atop the league with a 7-2 record while Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and TCU are settled in a four-way tie in second place with 6-3 in the Big 12. Every game matters in conference play, even more so in a season like this.
Kansas and Iowa State will play this Saturday at 11 am on ESPN in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones are ranked in the Top 15 but are currently on a two-game skid. Iowa State lost to Missouri in the Big 12/SEC challenge and then blew a 23-point second-half lead against Texas Tech on Tuesday night before falling 80-77 in overtime.
Playing in Hilton Coliseum is never easy, and the Jayhawks will have their work cut out for them, but a win on Saturday would set up Kansas for a battle for first place with Texas next week on ESPN’s Big Monday headliner game. The Jayhawks will be hosting a Top 10 team for the second straight time in Allen Fieldhouse.
Like many other teams in the Big 12, Texas is going through a tough stretch of games. They lost 82-71 to No. 4 Tennessee in the Big 12/SEC challenge before beating No. 11 Baylor on Monday. Now the Longhorns will go on the road for two games against two Top 10 teams in Kansas State and Kansas.
It feels like every team in the Big 12 will go through a stretch where they lose three of four conference games at some point. Kansas got their losses out of the way and is hoping to climb back into the driver’s seat at the top of the conference. It won’t be easy, but two more wins in a row would give them three straight wins against Top 15 teams and would put them atop the conference standings once again. Maybe the sky wasn’t falling on the Kansas basketball program after all.