LAWRENCE, Kan. —
Bill Self was the first to acknowledge that folks around Kansas had grown spoiled.
It’s only natural when one of the marquee programs in college basketball, one built upon iconic names such as James Naismith and Phog Allen, rattles off eight consecutive conference championships and throws in another national title along the way.
So when the Jayhawks scuffled to three straight losses, including an embarrassing defeat at TCU, it seemed as if the world was collapsing around the walls of Allen Fieldhouse.
“I think we just got spoiled, just like everyone around here does, that this can’t happen to us,” Self said matter-of-factly, “and we just let it happen.”
On Monday night, they finally put an end to it.
Ben McLemore scored 30 points on his 20th birthday, Jeff Withey dominated in the paint and the No. 14 Jayhawks routed No. 10 Kansas State 83-62 to forge a tie for first place in the Big 12 between the bitter in-state rivals.
“I think it’ll help us down the road, which is obviously the most important,” Self said of the morass, which in reality had extended all the way back to the start of conference play. “We still control our own destiny, even though it will be difficult, without question.”
One thing the Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3) have to their advantage is two wins over the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3), who had used a four-game winning streak to take over first place.
Rodney McGruder had 20 points and Angel Rodriguez added 17 for the Wildcats on Monday night, but they never seemed to be in the game despite entering the Phog as the higher-ranked team for the first time since Feb. 20, 1982.
The Jayhawks used two big runs in the first half to take a 47-29 lead at the break, and then thwarted every rally that the veteran Wildcats tried to muster down the stretch.
The result has become predictable: Kansas won for the 11th time in the last 12 games between the rivals, and for the 46th time in their last 49 meetings, prompting the student section to chant “This is our state!” once again in the closing minutes.
“Last week is over. We’re going to learn from that,” Withey said. “We met so many times and we talked about that so many times, and it’s not going to happen again.”
Most of the Jayhawks’ struggles the past two weeks have centered on their offense, which had produced just 13 points in the first half in that loss to TCU last Wednesday night.
That wasn’t much of a problem against the Wildcats.
McLemore, Kansas’ star freshman, was 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 10 from 3. Withey had 17 points, 10 boards and five blocked shots. Kevin Young had 13 points and Travis Releford 10.
Even backup guard Naadir Tharpe got into the act with seven points, eight assists and only one turnover, putting an exclamation mark on the quintessential get-right kind of game for Kansas.
“In the game of basketball, or any sport, it’s not always who you’re playing but when you’re playing them,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “They had a very tough week. They probably hung their head for a while. They got their head up. It’s always a good remedy to come home.”
Young got the Jayhawks off to a fast start with a dunk off a nifty feed from Tharpe, one of six assists he had in the first half. Withey was the recipient of Young’s feed on the next trip, and McLemore’s 3-pointer from the wing forced the Wildcats to call time out.
It didn’t do much to ebb the tide.
Kansas used a 14-3 run to gain control, and then a 12-3 charge fueled by Tharpe and McLemore to take a 40-19 lead with 3:26 remaining in the first half.
Kansas ended up shooting 58.6 percent from the field, and 5 of 10 from beyond the arc, in building a 47-29 halftime advantage. It was the most points the offensively troubled Jayhawks had scored in a half since putting up 53 in the first half against American on Dec. 29.
“We just played as a team,” McLemore said. “Went out there and gave it our all. It started on the defensive end. We got some stops and created on the offensive end.”
Kansas State drew within 58-43 with 14:04 left, but Withey snuffed out the comeback.
The reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year swatted away a shot by McGruder and, moments later, threw down a massive dunk over Jordan Henriquez — a fellow 7-footer — before finishing off the three-point play. Withey then rejected McGruder at the other end, and Travis Releford had the putback that restored the Jayhawks’ 20-point lead at 63-43 with 11:59 to go.
The Jayhawks put the game on cruise control down the stretch, giving Weber — who once followed Self as the man in charge at Illinois — his third loss in three tries against Kansas, and the Wildcats their sixth straight defeat in Lawrence.
Talk about things getting back to normal.
“First of all, losing three in a row is not — I understand it’s not forgivable. It’s a terrible, terrible deal. But what we’re going through is what 99 percent of teams in America go through,” Self said. “There’s only 1 percent that doesn’t go through this kind of stretch. And we’re spoiled because it’s been a long time since we went through one of these stretches.”