Standards set by previous Kansas teams left the No. 3 Jayhawks looking up at the top spot in the Big 12 standings for an unusually long period of time.
After their incredible string of 14 consecutive conference championships was snapped last season, Kansas toiled in second place for several weeks after losing for the first time ever to Baylor at home.
By beating the top-ranked Bears in a colossal rematch Saturday, Kansas (24-3, 13-1 Big 12) is back in its customary position, tied for the league lead coming down the stretch.
The challenge of maintaining that perch begins with a quick turnaround Monday when the Jayhawks play Oklahoma State (14-13, 4-10) at home in Lawrence.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “All this did was set up a bigger game on Monday and a bigger game (next) Saturday and those sorts of things.
“But to think we’ve been looking up at Baylor all year long … and the guys kind of just hung in there and hung in there and hung in there. It’s nice to grind and see some good things happen.”
Udoka Azubuike was largely responsible, recording 23 points and 19 rebounds for his 11th double-double. Relying again on the conditioning that led to an impressive makeover of his 7-foot frame, the senior center logged 36 minutes. He went 11 of 13 and remains the nation’s leader in field goal percentage at 74 percent.
“Coming in, I had a mindset that, yeah, I’ve been hearing people say all kinds of stuff, doubting me and all that stuff,” Azubuike said. “My teammates did a good job getting me the ball. We just stuck to what Coach wanted us to do.”
Much of what Self has insisted the Jayhawks do on the defensive end is happening. They limited Baylor to 39.7 percent shooting, playing aggressively while counting on Azubuike as a backstop.
The Kansas guards can also play aggressively knowing that if opponents use help tendencies to offset penetration it can create lob opportunities for their dominant post.
Not only have the Jayhawks tightened the Big 12 chase, they are poised to gain the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. BYU’s 91-78 victory over No. 2 Gonzaga on Saturday factors into that equation as the Zags’ 19-game winning streak was snapped. Kansas has won 12 straight after ending Baylor’s 23-game streak.
“We are not going to (become) complacent from this one. We are going to build off it,” said Devon Dotson, whose 18.2-point average leads Big 12 scorers.
Oklahoma State has won four of six since losing its first eight Big 12 games. The Cowboys overcame an early 10-point deficit Saturday to down Oklahoma behind a career-high-tying 28 points from Cameron McGriff. Yor Anei added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“This year as a whole hasn’t gone the way we expected,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton acknowledged. “We’re hopeful. There’s still a lot to play for out there for us. (Players) just keep responding.”
McGriff leads the balanced Cowboys in scoring (11.4) and rebounding (6.8). He is averaging 23.5 points over the past two games and has reached double digits in eight in a row.
“Cam, for the better part of a month, has been our most consistent player, quite honestly,” Boynton said. “Even in the games we haven’t won, he’s played the right way and the way that we need more guys to play like. … I’m just really proud of him.”
–Field Level Media