Jayhawks Cut Down the Nets in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sherron Collins dribbled out the final seconds with his index finger raised towards the Sprint Center rafters in KU's 72-64 victory over Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament title game Saturday night.

A few minutes later at 7:33 p.m., the No. 1 Jayhawks were presented with the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship trophy while confetti fell on the court and the crowed roared. Donning their new championship hats and shirts, the Jayhawks smiled, laughed, and celebrated.

Then one by one, the players cut down the net. Fittingly, senior guard Sherron Collins — the tournament's Most Outstanding Player — cut off the final strands.

How sweet it is...and this is just the beginning.

The Jayhawks (32-2), winners of five straight and 18 of their last 19, know if they keep on rolling in the NCAA tournament, there will be more celebration to come.

"We'll hopefully cut down more nets in three weeks," Collins said about being the last team standing after the national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on April 5.

Kansas now marches into the Big Dance as a sure-fire No. 1 seed and a lock to open the first two rounds in Oklahoma City, Okla., next Thursday when the tournament pairings are announced on Selection Sunday.

KU will be headed to the tournament after beating their arch-rivals from Manhattan three times in one season. But it didn't come easy. While Kansas led KSU the majority of the first half and the entire second half, the Jayhawks could never pull away from the Wildcats.

Kansas led by as many as eight points four times in the second stanza, but KSU kept crawling back. K-State cut the lead to two (40-38) with 13:25 remaining, yet could never get over the hump.

KU finally pushed the lead to 10 (62-52) with 5:46 left on a spectacular jumper by Collins. The senior guard then waved his hands in the air as the Jayhawks' fans got even louder. KSU whittled the lead back to six, but would come no closer.

"Every time we made a push today, they answered," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "That's what makes them so difficult to beat. They never give in."

A turnaround jumper by Marcus Morris with 1:48 remaining gave KU a 70-62 lead and sealed the deal. The crowd chanted "Let's Go Jayhawks" in the ensuing timeout as Kansas was headed for its 32nd win of the season.

KU coach Bill Self was quite pleased with his team's effort.

"I feel really good about how hard we competed against a really outstanding K-State team," Self said.

KU even played a triangle and two defense, which seemed to bother KSU. The Wildcats, who lead the nation in free-throw attempts, shot only 14 today and made eight. K-State didn't even attempt a free throw in the first half, while KU went eight of 10 from the line the first 20 minutes.

"We played a lot of triangle and two," Self said. "We didn't give them much in transition. A lot of their free throw are out of transition, where they force help or attack the rim. We did a good job of kind of neutralizing that. (The triangle and two) created long possessions and a lot of jump shots."

And the Wildcats couldn't buy a bucket for most of the game. They opened the game missing their first 12 shots and began the second half missing its first six. KU wasn't much better to start both halves, hitting just two if its first 10 shots of the game and opening the second half missing six of its first eight.

K-State finished the game shooting just 34.8 percent from the field, while KU shot 44.2 percent, including 52.2 percent in the second half. KSU star junior guard Jacob Pullen, who scored 26 points against Baylor in the semifinals on Friday night (7-13 FG, 5-10 from three-point range), scored just 13 points on 5 of 17 shooting and a dismal 1 of 8 from three-point range.

The Jayhawks defended well in this grind-it-out game and got inspiring play from junior guard Tyrel Reed (career-high 15 points) and Morris (game-high 18 points, eight rebounds).

"Tyrel was great for us," Self said. "That's probably the best game he's had since he's been at Kansas."

Collins played well again, finishing with 12 points and seven assists, while Aldrich had 10 points and eight rebounds. He fouled out in just 24 minutes. Aldrich, Morris and twin bother Markieff helped outscore the smaller Wildcats 34 to 20 in the paint.

Now, after a sixth-straight Big 12 regular-season championship and KU's fourth conference tournament title in five years, it's on to the NCAA tournament.

The Jayhawks can't wait for the real madness to begin.

"This is the greatest time of the year," Aldrich said. "You go through boot camp and you hate running and coach is riding your butt. You're mad at everybody else because you're getting up early, but when you're holding trophies and you're going to the tournament, it all pays off."

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