Kansas is still alive in Big 12 race, but still trying to figure things out with three games to go in regular season
The Jayhawks easily defeated Kansas State, but have questions to answer if they are to win a 15th straight Big 12 title
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas beat Kansas State for a record 197th time Monday night. No Division I team has won more games against the same opponent. Ever. To put the dominance in more recent perspective, the Jayhawks prevailed over the Wildcats for the 58th time in the last 64 meetings going back to 1994.
That's a decades-long, almost never-ending dunk by one rival over another.
And it might not matter in this schizophrenic Kansas season.
The again, it might. Check back at regular intervals on this developing story that involves not only the Jayhawks' ongoing NCAA-record of 14 consecutive Big 12 titles but also the psyche of these young, at-times fragile, Jayhawks.
That's what has to be so maddening for Coach Bill Self. After No. 15 Kansas routed No. 16 Kansas State 64-49, KU's coach still doesn't know exactly what he has.
Two days after a 29-point loss at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks beat first-place Kansas State by 15. That's an omen of some sort for a program still in line for a 15th straight title.
But it also means KU is an unfamiliar position – in third place of the Big 12 this late in the season trailing both second-place Texas Tech by a half game and K-State by one game.
"I don't know if I remember a time where we didn't control our own destiny," said Self of the conference streak that started two years before the IPhone hit the market (2005).
The mighty Jayhawks do need help. For a night, they helped themselves. A loss would have put Kansas behind the Wildcats by three games with three to play.
There are two ways of looking at it. Either KU elbowed its way back into the Big 12 race Monday or the many flaws of the Jayhawks are finally going to catch up to them.
Just don't try to find many hiccups Monday night.
Kansas won all the hustle stats: K-State was outrebounded 41-31. The Jayhawks dominated the second-chance points, 13-7. With less than eight minutes remaining in the first half Bruce Weber's second-leading scorer (Dean Wade) and most accurate shooter (Makol Mawien) were on the bench, each had two fouls.
Leading scorer Barry Brown went 1 for 8 on a night he could have made significant progress toward becoming Big 12 player of the year.
Wade, Brown and Kamau Stokes are the only three senior starters among power conferences with a combined 4,000 career points, according to K-State research.
On Monday, they combined to go 8 of 25 committing seven of the Wildcats' 12 turnovers.
"Super disappointed, man, especially [about] myself," Brown said. "Didn't play the right way all night. I had a pretty bad game today."
As bad as KU was against Texas Tech, it was that good against the Wildcats. That should have been evident when junior forward Mitch Lightfoot – nine points, five rebounds, three blocks off the bench -- hit his first 3-pointer of the season – and only the ninth of his career.
"This doesn't take away what happened Saturday," Self said. "You shouldn't put too much emphasis on tonight. I thought we tried at Tech. We didn't quit by any stretch. I thought Tech played fabulous. And when we got punched in the mouth, we didn't know how to react."
Self has to still be wondering if his Jayhawks can take a punch. They have beaten Michigan State and Tennessee this season. K-State also posted one of their six wins against KU in the last 25 years earlier this month. What stands out most is a 2-7 record in true road games, a sure sign of an inexperienced team.
"We've been so poor on the road …," Self said. "We've got to go prove ourselves away from home before we even talk about it."
If Kansas doesn't get No. 15, valid excuses will abound. Beating the Spartans and Vols came before the 7-foot post Udoka Azubuike was lost for the season in January with ligament damage in his right hand.
Third-leading scorer Lagerald Vick went home to Memphis earlier this month for personal reasons. Forward Silvio De Sousa never set foot on the court this season. An NCAA suspension lasts through next season. The school is appealing and could hear something any day on the 6-9 forward.
So which Jayhawks are we supposed to expect now? Self is starting four freshmen because he doesn't have many other options.
Kansas State (21-7, 11-4 Big 12) still has final say, up by that game in the conference standings over KU (21-7, 10-5) with three to play. Second-place Texas Tech is at 10-4.
But history says that somehow, some way, Kansas always gets at least a share. During the 14-year streak the Jayhawks have shared the title four times but hardly matters now.
This time they might have to back into first. The Jayhawks probably can't afford to lose again. They'll have to prove it on the road at Oklahoma State and Oklahoma before finishing at home against Baylor. K-State has Baylor and Oklahoma at home and TCU on the road.
"Three game season in eight days," Weber summed up. "What are we about?"
Self is wondering the same thing.
"We know we have to run the table," he said. "Talking about winning the league and talking about the streak to me are two different things. I'm not talking about the streak."
Not until he has to.
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