You just knew it wouldn’t be that easy, but still you don’t think it’ll be a rollercoaster either. For Kansas, it was a little bit of everything, but most importantly, it was a much needed win that may end up doing more for the team in the long run.
The Jayhawks built a big lead, let it go and fought to get it back, making it stick for good in an 85-78 win over Oklahoma, Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The win was crucial, as it allowed KU to take two of three in a critical stretch that included games against Oklahoma State, at Iowa State and the game against the Sooners.
"We played as well as we have played, maybe as well as we can play, in the first half, not just because we made shots, but we went after the ball and could guard,” head coach Bill Self said. We did just about everything right. The second half we weren't as good. We also missed some open looks, but they were great.”
“When you are playing from behind, sometimes those are the most fun games to play in if you are on offense because the basket looks like a water tub,” Self continued. “There's no pressure if you don't make shots, and then of course it looked like a thimble for us until late, but guys made plays and our young kids came through. It was a great, great basketball game and an unbelievable win."
Kansas (15-3, 4-1) never looked as good all season as they looked in the first half, racing out to a 51-32 halftime lead. It seemed as if Oklahoma (14-6, 3-3) could have folded up shop then, but they came roaring back behind stud guard Buddy Hield, who torched the Jayhawks for a season high 26 points.
Oklahoma took the lead and Kansas was struggling and in dire straits with a tough road contest at Texas looming this weekend. But, Kansas would have none of it, as it became a true team effort to will themselves to victory.
Kelly Oubre scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, as well as being a defensive menace. Perry Ellis, bulled his way to 16 points. Then, there was the redemption of freshman Cliff Alexander, who atoned for Saturday night’s benching to score 13 points and haul down 13 rebounds.
When Brannen Greene knocked down the biggest shot of the game, giving him three of his 12 points, Kansas had the lead with just a few minutes remaining, the historic old barn erupted and the Jayhawks would pull away with defense and clutch free throw shooting. It was tense and packed with nerves. Essentially, it was just another night in will be a more tightly contested league race, arguably the tightest in conference history.
"They are really good, and that was a great home crowd,” Self said. “We were fortunate to win. I don't think we go down there until the last game of the season; hopefully that game will be played for high stakes. I hate to say this, and fans won't like to hear this, but you can play really well and lose in this conference. If we would have played well on Saturday it wouldn't have guaranteed us a win. There are seven or eight teams that, if they play well, they are going to be difficult to beat, no matter where you play. When you have guys that can shoot the ball like that and you have Buddy (Hield) and (Isaiah) Cousins and the basket gets big, sometimes good defense doesn't make a difference."