What a difference a game makes – or, better said, between games in the same week. The Kansas Jayhawks may not be so anxious to see Nebraska leave the Big 12. Thanks to the Cornhuskers, the Jayhawks are back within a game of the conference lead in men’s basketball.
At the front end of this week, Kansas was elevated to No. 1 in the country, just hours ahead to taking the court in Manhattan, Kan., where the Jayhawks would receive a rude Valentine’s Day welcome and a heartless beatdown from their Sunflower State rival, Kansas State.
That meant Kansas held the nation’s No. 1 ranking in college basketball for less than a day before being knocked off for only the second time this season. Getting beat, and badly, by your hated archrival after ascending to No. 1 in the national polls was devastating enough, but it also left Bill Self’s six-time defending regular-season champions two games back of No. 2-ranked Texas in the conference race with just five games to go.
KU is the only Big 12 team with a realistic chance to catch Texas for the conference crown, and the defending champs could not afford to fall further behind in the standings.
Reflecting on the K-State loss, Self said, “I thought we were an embarrassed team. There’s nothing embarrassing in college basketball about losing a game,” he said. “What’s embarrassing was the way we lost it.”
The Longhorns cruised in their midweek game this past week, with an 18-point win at home over Oklahoma State, and turned their sights to a weekend clash at surprising Nebraska, where a win would most likely catapult the Big 12 leader to the top spot in the country.
At about the same time Kansas was entertaining Colorado at a jam-packed Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Texas and Nebraska were getting under way several hours to the north in Lincoln.
The Jayhawks, who last month escaped with a four-point win over the Buffaloes in Boulder, stepped on the gas early and often Saturday. Led by the inspired play of junior forward Markieff Morris, who bounced back from a three-point, one-rebound performance earlier in the week against Kansas State, Kansas returned to more customary form playing in front of the home folks and went on to crush Colorado 89-63 for its 25th win of the season and the Hawks’ 10th conference victory.
Markieff ended up with 26 points and 15 rebounds on Saturday. His twin brother, Marcus, added 16 points, the same as senior guard Brady Morningstar. Combined, the Morris twins had 24 of KU 41 rebounds for the game.
Shortly after Kansas’ game ended Saturday, word came that Nebraska had withstood a furious late rally by Texas to pull off a stunning 70-67 upset over the Longhorns. After hearing the final outcome in the Nebraska-Texas game, KU’s Self joyfully proclaimed, “We’ve got life,” referring to the fact that the Jayhawks had again pulled to within one game of the Longhorns in the league standings.
After scoring just 68 points against Kansas State, the Jayhawks’ 89-point performance against Colorado was more in line with their 83.5 season average.
For Nebraska, the win over Texas not only raised the Cornhuskers conference record to the .500 level, it also served as sweet revenge for the Longhorns’ shocking upset of nationally-ranked Nebraska in Lincoln during football season.
K-State (18-9, 6-6) continued its hot streak with a second home win for the week, disposing of Oklahoma 77-62 and evening its conference mark at 6-6. The Wildcats broke open a 55-50 contest with just under six minutes left, going on a 14-0 run in a 90-second span to effectively close off any Sooner comeback.
All Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel could do after K-State explosive offensive outburst late in game was shake his head in frustration. The Sooners (12-14, 4-8) started out conference play with three straight losses, then won their next four games, and are now on a five-game losing skid, with a road trip to Texas A&M on the immediate horizon.
“We had our moments in the game where we made lackadaisical plays and just didn’t bring energy,” said the Wildcats’ team leader, senior Jacob Pullen, who put in 27 points for the game after pouring in 38 on Monday night in the win over KU. “But we understood as a team that this was a game we needed. It was a game that we needed to prove we were consistent and try to build our resume back up.”
The general feeling is that coach Frank Martin’s squad is going to have to have at least eight conference wins to get one of the at-large bids for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. That means at least two more wins are needed out of the final four regular-season games. Next up for K-State is a date on the road with Nebraska (18-8, 6-6), which is currently tied with the Wildcats in fifth place in the conference.
Missouri and Baylor began the weekend tied for fourth in the conference standings, but they appear to be headed in opposite directions in the waning days of the regular season. The Tigers (21-2, 7-5), who earlier in the week reached the 20-victory mark, went to Iowa State as one of only three teams in the conference without a league win on the road. Baylor was playing at home in a very winnable game against low-flying Texas Tech.
The Tigers held the lead most of the way against the Big 12’s worst team, but the Cyclones, now 1-11 in the conference but still barely above water overall at 13-14, kept fighting back and eventually tied the game at 58-58 with 6:07 to play. MU scored 11 of the next 13 points and made crucial free-throws in the closing seconds to snap its six-game winless streak on the road in Big 12 action.
“I still consider this a steal,” said MU junior forward Laurence Bowers, adding, “on the road in the Big 12, you never know what you’re going to get.”
Picking this week’s Big 12 games
Monday, Feb. 21
Oklahoma State @ KANSAS (KU by 12)
Tuesday, Feb. 22
Iowa State @ TEXAS (UT by 14)
Wednesday, Feb. 23
COLORADO @ Texas Tech (CU by 4)
Oklahoma @ TEXAS A&M (Aggies by 12)
Baylor @ MISSOURI (MU by 9)
Kansas State @ NEBRASKA (NU by 3)
Last week: 13-5
For the seaason: 53-21
For more information:
Big 12 Conference official website
Additional Kansas City sports coverage & commentary
glowbass.com college basketball rankings
AP, ESPN/USA Today top 25 college basketball polls