KU Finishes In Style

Kansas ended a near perfect Big 12 regular season notching the school's 1999th win. It came against another bitter rival and for KU it doesn't get much better.

KU couldn't have scripted it better.

How else would the Jayhawks prefer to cap off an impressive 15-1 mark in Big 12 play than with two big wins over their two biggest rivals? A 17-point margin at home vs. K-State on Wednesday was followed up by a 21-point drubbing at Missouri. Included in that 15-1 record, a 4-0 advantage against the school's nearest and most bitter rivals.

"I think it's a great accomplishment," head coach Bill Self said after the victory. "Winning the league is an accomplishment in a year where the league is so good. I'm real proud of our guys. One thing about the league we put a lot of emphasis on winning the league but we thought this would be the hardest year for us to win the league in large part because of our road games against the south teams were against three of the four best teams in the south."

Kansas wasn't looking like the conference champ early on and got off to an inauspicious start.

"We were pretty sped up early. We had five turnovers and we were down 17-10 and then the next 12 minutes we had two so at least we got some looks at the basket and we made a couple of big shots, started getting the ball inside getting some easy baskets. We defended them pretty well for the most part the entire day."

It was really two separate impressive runs that broke this game open twice. There weren't many baskets exchanged in what turned out to be definitive game of runs. Reminiscent of a run earlier in the year at Texas, KU ran off 16-straight points to end the half giving the Jayhawks a 40-24 lead at the break.

"Last year we had a 14-point lead at halftime if I'm not mistaken and got beat," Self recalled. "We talked about that at halftime. The talk was so good we almost came out and gave it away in the first eight minutes. So they didn't even need the whole 20 to cut the lead."

It was a fact Self could smile about after the fact. But in the second half the Tigers got the crowd back into it quickly slicing the lead to four (44-40). The Jayhawks had seen enough and fired off a 20-4 run to put the game away for good.

"You could say that but you could also say they're playing two Kansas teams too because we went through a stretch," said Self answering whether he saw two different Mizzou teams out there today. "When they were good we were really bad. And when we were good they weren't as good. It was one of those games where we run off a big run and then they would run off a big run so you could say that about both teams today."

That second run came just after Marcus Morris (12 points, 10 rebounds) took a scary fall into the scorer's table and headed to the lockerroom. A heart-stopping moment for fans for sure but Marcus suffered just a cut wrist and did not sustain a concussion. By the time Morris returned to the lineup his team had taken control of the game once again.

This one actually had a lot of similarities to the first meeting between the two schools this season. For the second straight time this season Mike Anderson's squad struggled with the size of the Jayhawks losing the rebounding battle by 17 and giving up 42 points in the paint.

"We did rebound the ball good today. We've been an average rebounding team at best against a certain style of team. We gotta get where we're a little tougher in that area," Self continued. "Basketball's a weird game. You may like how you'll playing today and two days later what's happened and now we're struggling and two days later thinking now we're starting to get it. Right now I think we're on an uptick."

Depth is a critical element to beating MU because its pressure can take its toll. Both teams had their moments when they looked to be gassed but at the end Kansas appeared the fresher team.  

"I thought our bench kept our starters fresh," said head coach Bill Self who got 23 points off the bench in this one. "I thought when you watched us play out there you really couldn't tell who our best five players were because I thought they all contributed positively – I didn't feel like we had to get our starters back in. That to me was the most pleasing this about our bench play.

Off that bench no one has been more pleased to see the gold and black this season than Tyrel Reed. Reed is a combined 7-9 from three-point range against Mizzou scoring 25 points. Reed's last two games in double-figures just happen to be both matchups against Mizzou. Reed showed the range in this one going 3-5 from three and was one of five Jayhawks in double-figures.

Missouri could have used some of Reed's efficiency from deep. In order to compete with KU. Because of the size discrepancy alone the Tigers required a solid effort from three and they didn't get it in this one. Mizzou was just 23-65 from the floor overall and an abysmal 3-22 from behind the arc.

The failure to really keep it close for most of the game kept a lid on the volume of the Antlers (student section at MU) spoiling senior day in Columbia for sure.

Was there anything that didn't go right this week for KU?

Well if the fans had their way that Oklahoma State loss just a week ago wouldn't have happened and this would've been the program's 2000th win and it would've come against a hated rival. But everything can't be perfect for KU.

Heading into the postseason the pressure falls squarely on the shoulders of 6-11 Cole Aldrich and senior leader Sherron Collins. There have been plenty of nights where KU has walked out of the gym a winner with marginal performances from their two stars. This is now a whole different world though and whether or not you succeed in the postseason depends largely on the performance of your best players. Collins was critical in that first half 16-0 run and finished with 12 points for the game. Aldrich scored 10 points, and grabbed 7 rebounds but really wasn't involved early. They will both have to be better to cut down some more nets and add to their postseason accolades.  

"I still don't think we've had all our players play well at the same time," Self repeated. "I think your best players have to really step up and play their best the most important times of the year and that's Sherron and Cole. They gotta step up. They played fine today but not anything special or anything like that."

The Jayhawks have a rest and will not play until Thursday in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. Don't expect to see this team cut loose and celebrate the title they just officially earned.

"Our guys haven't celebrated that's the thing that's cool to me," Self continued. "Just high fives because I really think that they feel there are bigger things out there if we're able to stay focused and take care of business."

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