Ho-hum. Kansas are Big 12 champs. Again.
With a 83-75 win over Oklahoma (20-8, 9-6 Big 12) at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night, the No. 5 Jayhawks (22-6, 13-2 Big 12) secured at least a share of the conference title for the 10th consecutive season.
Kansas Basketball's Twitter account celebrated the unbelievable accomplishment with a picture, while Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg summed it up from a historical perspective:
In the back-and-forth contest, an incredibly balanced effort from Bill Self's squad helped pull out the victory.
Naadir Tharpe led Kansas' five double-figure scorers with 19 points. The junior missed just one shot on the night, hit all six of his free throws in the final six minutes and was incredibly clutch for the Jayhawks down the stretch.
Self gave his point guard top-notch praise after the game, via Kansas Gameday on Twitter:
Elsewhere, Joel Embiid was everywhere on his way to a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds), Wayne Selden Jr. and Andrew Wiggins had 15 points each and Perry Ellis chipped in 11.
Overall, the game was defined by a series of runs.
Kansas jumped out to a 15-4 lead in the opening five minutes, only for Oklahoma—with its back against the wall on the road—to admirably bounce back with a 13-2 spurt to tie the game at 17.
After Cameron Clark hit a couple of free throws to give OU a one-point lead with 2:55 left in the half, Selden stepped up with seven consecutive points as the Jayhawks went on a 10-0 run to close out the first 20 minutes of action.
As the Lawrence Journal-World's Tom Keegan pointed out, that was a pretty good sign for Kansas:
Of course, the second half started the same—only in the opposite fashion.
Buddy Hield, who had a slow first 20 minutes, scored five quick points and assisted on a Jordan Woodard three-pointer, as the Sooners went on a 13-4 run to once again tie the score.
From there, the lead was never stretched to beyond four in either direction until Perry Ellis hit a couple of free-throws to make it 69-63 with 4:43 remaining.
Oklahoma continued to throw counter-punches, but Wiggins' wide-open three with 2:51 left put the Jayhawks up by eight and sealed the victory.
Kansas Gameday gave a look at the game-clinching play:
Clark led Oklahoma with 18 points, while Hield chipped in 16. Despite the loss, though, the hard-nosed, never-quit effort from the Sooners was impressive—especially in Lawrence—and another reason why they'll serve as a difficult matchup come March.
As for the Jayhawks, even in a year in which the conference is notably stacked, they are once again the kings of the Big 12.
After the game, Tharpe summed it up best via the Associated Press: "Just a great feeling. To be at home, to hear the fans and all that, it's a beautiful feeling. It just shows the tradition of Kansas and what it means to us."
Cameron Clark, Oklahoma: B
When it seemed like Kansas was on the brink of blowing Oklahoma out of the water in the opening minutes, the Sooners looked putrid from the field. They couldn't get any penetration towards the basket, were forcing shots and couldn't get anything to fall.
That is, everyone except for Clark, who was able to knock down his deadly mid-range jump shot and keep his team close in the first half.
He finished with a team-high 18 points, but those came on an inefficient 15 shots.
Joel Embiid, Kansas: A
You want a full stat line? How about 12 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four steals and three blocks.
Embiid's versatility isn't anything new if you've been paying attention over the past couple of months, but that doesn't make it any less impressive. The phenom is obviously a tremendous rebounder and rim protector, but his ability to also score out of the post and pass out of double-teams was once again on display.
There's simply no one in the country quite like this kid.
Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma: B+
Ryan Spangler did what Ryan Spangler does.
The Gonzaga transfer battled on the inside and impressively controlled the glass, finishing with nine rebounds to go with his nine points. It certainly wasn't his most productive game of the season, but despite foul trouble he brought toughness and energy while doing an admirable job against a formidable—and deep—frontcourt.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: B-
Wiggins looked like he was in line for a big game after knocking down a couple of early jumpers, but he got into foul trouble and finished with what was his worst performance in quite some time.
Although the fouls didn't keep the freshly-turned 19-year-old off the court, he seriously fell out of a rhythm. His jump shot wasn't falling, his normally solid finishing around the rim was erratic and he really struggled for much of the game.
He eventually settled in and knocked down some clutch shots down the stretch, but 15 points on 14 shots isn't what you want to see.
Rest assured, though, the ultra-talented freshman will bounce back.
Kansas' three remaining Big 12 contests—Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and West Virginia—are against teams from the bottom half of the conference, although the Cowboys, who nearly beat the Jayhawks in Lawrence, boast far more talent than most 18-10 teams.
With Oklahoma State desperately needing to bolster its NCAA tournament resume, that game in Stillwater will be one to watch on Saturday.
Self, the consummate pro he is, he is already looking forward to that game even after winning a 10th straight conference title:
Oklahoma, meanwhile, gets Texas at home on Saturday before hosting West Virginia and then traveling to TCU to close out the regular season.
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