It was as tough of a quarterfinal matchup as you could get and it was as expected. In the end, Kansas persevered and without starting center Joel Embiid and thanks to Andrew Wiggins' 30 points, gutted out a 77-70 overtime victory over Oklahoma State, in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship, Thursday afternoon inside Kansas City's Sprint Center. They'll face Iowa State for a second consecutive year in the semifinals, Friday night.
The victory was hard fought and could prove to be a valuable teaching tool for head coach Bill Self, whose team is using this week's tournament wisely, as they look to gel heading into next week's NCAA Tournament. Games like Thursday could prove to be vital later on.
"It was an unbelievable game. Two teams competing hard, and certainly I think the first day of the most competitive league in America hasn't disappointed so far, " Self said. Early on, it seemed as if the Jayhawks were determined to exact revenge from their March 1 loss in Stillwater, as they took a 32-23 lead into the locker room, but a 7-0 run by the Cowboys midway through the second half turned a slightly comfortable lead into a fight for survival to avoid being sent home astoundingly early.
The 23 points was the lowest output in a half by the Cowboys this season. Kansas (24-8) looked to distance themselves from Oklahoma State (21-12) quickly, but found themselves in a tight struggle, as the 7-0 run gave the Cowboys life and when Markel Brown scored with 4:08 to play, they had their first lead since the early stages of the game.
"They came out and obviously shot 52 percent the second half," Self said. "We didn't guard them as well, but the law of averages should be prevail. When you have good players, they're going to make shots and they've got four guys that can really score the ball, and all terrific. And I thought they actually made some hard shots. I thought they threw some hard shots."
To survive, it would take a team effort and execution once the game reached the stage of when every possession is valuable and could swing the contest one way or another. Brown would knock down a three with 1:32 remaining, giving OSU their largest lead of the game at 67-65. However, Wiggins would not let his team lose. The freshman who has played with an enormous amount of pressure since he announced his intentions to play at Kansas and the player who will always be under the brightest lights when he's on the floor, calmly stepped up and knocked down a jumper from the left baseline to tie the game with 1:05 to play and after both teams squandered opportunities to win in regulation, to overtime they went.
"My shot was falling the whole game, and they cut out the baseline, stepped back one of my main moves is what I like to do," Wiggins said. "It just fell through."
Kansas would outscore the exhausted Cowboys 10-3 in the overtime and despite four players in double figures, led by Le'Bryan Nash's 19 points, Oklahoma State succumbed to the pressure of the Kansas defense and with clutch free throw shooting by Naadir Tharpe, it was survival and a passing grade in that first postseason test.
"That took everything we had," Self said. "We had to play out of foul trouble, and I think it took everything Iowa State had to win earlier today. So you'll have two tired teams that have to recover fast and get ready tomorrow."