No. 1 KU beats No. 9 K-State 72-64 in Big 12 final
AP Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Snip by snip, the Kansas Jayhawks took down another championship net.
So what if there are bigger goals still ahead.
Winning a title feels good anytime, especially against a rival in an atmosphere like this.
Balanced and sharp when it needed to be, No. 1 Kansas won its seventh Big 12 tournament title Saturday night, holding off No. 9 Kansas State 72-64 inside an ear-ringing Sprint Center.
“Having a chance to beat, in our estimation, one of the best teams in the country in a great atmosphere against your state rival in Kansas City makes it a little more special than if we’d been playing anybody else,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Taking the stage in one of the biggest sporting events in Kansas City’s history, the Jayhawks (32-2) wore down the Wildcats defensively and came to life briefly on offense in the second half to beat their rivals for the third time this season.
The Jayhawks won a sixth straight regular-season Big 12 title and capped that with a gritty three-game run through one of the toughest conference tournaments in the country, a combination that’ll likely earn them a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament when the brackets are announced Sunday.
Marcus Morris had 18 points, Tyrel Reed added 15 and Kansas held the Wildcats to 34 percent shooting to keep the Sunflower Showdown a lopsided affair with its 41st win – six in the Big 12 tournament – in 43 games since 1994. Sherron Collins added 12 points and seven assists for the Jayhawks.
“I think we have some momentum going into the NCAA tournament,” said Reed, who hit both 3-point attempts and was 7 of 9 on free throws. “We’ll celebrate tonight and starting tomorrow start focusing on our first-round opponent.”
Kansas State (26-7) had visions of ending its conference tournament title drought at 30 years against the one team it wants to beat the most. The Wildcats gave themselves a shot behind a scrappy defensive effort, but didn’t have an answer when Kansas made its second-half push.
Now, Kansas State goes into Selection Sunday hoping its school-record 26 wins and top-10 strength of schedule will be enough to sway the committee into giving it a high seed.
Denis Clemente had 17 points, Jamar Samuels 14 and Jacob Pullen added 13 for K-State.
“We went to the championship and went nose-to-nose with the bear,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “We were right there and just couldn’t finish it off.”
The two regular-season meetings were among the biggest in the rivalry’s 103-year history.
The opening act was in the Little Apple, where Kansas squeezed out a taut overtime victory that was among the best games of the college basketball season.
Part II was pre-billed as one of the greatest Sunflower Showdowns ever, the teams ranked in the top 5 against each other for the first time in 52 years. It was a bit of a flop, Kansas winning easily in Collins’ Allen Fieldhouse finale.
The final act – well, barring a fourth in the NCAA tournament – was a rivalry intertwined with bigger prizes: another Big 12 tournament title for Kansas, K-State’s first ever, a probable No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on the line, big-time bragging rights.
Even with less than 24 hours of buildup, it was a monumental event, one of the biggest in Kansas City sports history. Maybe not on the level of Danny and the Miracles winning a national title for Kansas at Kemper Arena in 1988 or the I-70 World Series won by the Royals three years earlier, but a top-fiver for sure.
“There won’t be a better atmosphere in America for a final (of a) conference tournament,” Self said.
It’s hard to argue.
The entire city was juiced for it, seemingly everyone wearing crimson or purple, talking smack in the mall, the grocery store.
Two hours before the game, the Power & Light District outside the Sprint Center was shoulder-to-shoulder. Inside was a purple-and-blue checkerboard of fans filling the 18,897-seat arena to the brim, the roars and boos colliding in a floor-shaking fury with each momentum swing.
What swings there were.
Mostly, it was a lot of missed shots, offensive fouls and not much separation.
Kansas State missed its first 12 attempts against KU’s pressure before finally scoring on Wally Judge’s tip 5:14 into the game. The Jayhawks had similar problems with Kansas State’s overplaying defense, managing five points during the Wildcats’ scoreless start.
The clangs continued throughout the first half and the teams combined to shoot 13 of 67, with Kansas clinging to a 31-27 lead.
The trend continued into the second half until Kansas started to find seams and the bottom of the net midway through.
Kansas pushed the lead to 62-52 on Collins’ half-hook runner in the lane with just over five minutes left and answered every Kansas State challenge after that to head into the NCAA tournament with a head of steam.
“KU is the best team in the country,” Martin said. “Every time we made a push today, they answered. That’s what makes them so difficult to beat. They never give in.”