Jayhawks Smoke Red Raiders In Big 12 Tourney Opener

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press
Ben McLemore scored 24 points to lead No. 7 Kansas to a 91-63 rout of Texas Tech on Thursday, setting up an intriguing date with Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.

Kansas guard Ben McLemore (23) dunks the ball during the first half an NCAA college basketball game against Texas Tech in the Big 12 men's tournament Thursday, March 14, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Ben McLemore scored 24 points to lead No. 7 Kansas to a 91-63 rout of Texas Tech on Thursday, setting up an intriguing date with Iowa State in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.

The regular-season co-champion, Kansas was pushed by Texas Tech in their meeting in Lubbock earlier this season, but used a big run early in the second half to put this one away early.

The Jayhawks (27-5) shot 66 percent from the field (31 of 47), the best mark by any team in a Big 12 tournament game, in advancing to face the Cyclones on Friday night. Kansas needed overtime to beat them in both of their regular-season games.

Dejan Kravic scored 20 points, Dusty Hannahs added 15 and Jordan Tolbert had 13 for the Red Raiders, (11-20), who head into the offseason awaiting the fate of interim coach Chris Walker.

The longtime assistant took over in October, shortly after Billy Gillispie submitted a letter of resignation citing health concerns, and has been told he'll be a candidate for the job.

Anrio Adams had a career-high 11 points, mostly in mop-up duty, as the hot-shooting Jayhawks put on display for a partisan crowd at the Sprint Center that included new Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who was seated a few rows behind the Texas Tech bench.

Kansas was 9 of 18 from beyond the arc and 20 of 23 from the foul line.

The Jayhawks, wearing their special edition Zubaz-like, Adidas uniforms, took a 15-2 lead in the opening minutes, getting into transition and taking the ball right to the basket.

McLemore, their star freshman, hit a pair of 3-pointers after missing his first nine tries against the Red Raiders during the regular season. He also added a mid-range jumper, a soaring dunk in transition and a couple of free throws before Texas Tech could slow him down.

Just as quickly, the Red Raiders came storming back.

Kravic, whose buzzer-beating tip-in Wednesday night helped Texas Tech beat West Virginia, followed up a 3-pointer by Jamal Williams by scoring the Red Raiders' next nine points.

His jumper midway through the second half forced Kansas coach Bill Self, his face red with fury, to call a timeout and lay into a starting lineup that includes four seniors.

Kansas settled down over the final few minutes of the half and led 35-25 at the break.

Tolbert hit a couple free throws for Texas Tech to start the second half, but the Jayhawks ripped off an 18-4 run over the next five minutes that put the game away.

It started when McLemore got loose in the corner opposite the Kansas bench and, with a silky smooth stroke, poured in his third 3-pointer of the game. Young added a dunk, Withey scored inside and McLemore hit again from beyond the arc as Walker burned another timeout for Texas Tech.

Later in the run, Travis Releford got ahead on a fast break and converted a layup as he was clobbered from behind by the Red Raiders' Josh Gray. The officials ruled it a flagrant foul, and the senior from Kansas City made both of his free throws to give the Jayhawks a 52-31 lead.

The Jayhawks emptied their bench in the closing minutes, the game well in hand, giving their starters the luxury of looking ahead to at least one more game with the Cyclones.

In their first memorable game in Lawrence, Kansas needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by McLemore just to force overtime. In the return game in Ames, Elijah Johnson scored eight of his career-high 39 points in the final 29 seconds to again force overtime.

Kansas coasted to overtime victories each time.

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KU quotes:

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Kansas Coach Bill Self, student‑athletes Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey. Coach, any opening statement?

COACH SELF: Obviously we were pretty efficient offensively when we didn't turn it over. Ben got us off to a good start and we kind of puttered around but played a pretty good second half. And our defense was pretty good except we just fouled so much.

I thought it was a pretty good effort.

Q. Jeff, after you guys started puttering around as Bill said, what was the difference? What got you back into rhythm in the second half?

JEFF WITHEY: We just kind of knew we had to step up and bring more energy. Ben helped us out a lot and gave us a lot of energy by scoring, and one stop kind of led to two. Whenever we're kind of tenacious on defense, it kind of helps our offense out a lot.

And the second half we did a little bit better job on defense, and that kind of just gave us more energy.

Q. Jeff, you've been through this a couple of times. Is this a tough game to play during the day, a team you've already played two times, kind of in an environment that's not maybe like you guys are used to?

JEFF WITHEY: I wouldn't say it's a tough game. We got ready for it this whole last week. We had practice earlier. And we knew that the Sprint Center probably wouldn't be packed, but there was a good crowd out there.

And I wouldn't say it was a tough game to play. We were ready.

Q. You guys played a couple of pretty interesting games against Iowa State. Just your thoughts on getting them a third time?

BEN MCLEMORE: We just gotta be ready, get ready as a team, and just go out there and play Kansas basketball.

JEFF WITHEY: We're excited to be able to play them again. There is a lot of controversy and stuff like that, and it will be a fun game. That's what I like. So it will be a good one.

Q. Unlike the regular season, you guys are playing games back‑to‑back days, so what have you been doing this week to prepare for the possibility, the reality of playing more full games back‑to‑back days, not having days off?

JEFF WITHEY: We practice every day. So it's not too much of a difference. Being a senior, I can look back and see how important it is. Just to when you're in your hotel, you gotta rest and take care of your body and drink a lot of water and not just horse around in the hotel. That's pretty much all it comes down to.

And so, yeah, that's all you gotta do is take care of your body.

Q. Ben, you say you guys play Kansas basketball. It's a beautiful thing. But 66 percent field goal percentages is even better than a lot of people have seen so far. So what was going right for you guys? What was keeping the hands hot tonight?

BEN MCLEMORE: We were playing as a team, moving the ball around, making extra passes to each other and just create for each other. Like you say, we're shooting 66 percent, which was great. And we're just trying to get each other involved.

Q. You guys had some struggles in Waco on Saturday. What was the key of turning things back and was that kind of a teaching moment as you guys got ready for the game coming up today?

JEFF WITHEY: Yeah, we came out flat against Baylor. And we made ‑‑ we had a couple of tough days of practice just to get ready for that. And we know that we can't come flat because we become really average and not a very good team.

So thankfully today Ben was able to come out and he was on fire and got everybody going. So we gotta just come out ready to play every time.

And we're just going to learn from our losses. And during this time of the season, we can't have any more of those.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions for Coach.

Q. Everyone's looking forward to this game, the Iowa State guys are looking forward to playing you guys, some of the players talk about payback for a couple of close losses. What do expect tomorrow out of this game against Iowa State?

COACH SELF: I think it's going to be a terrific ballgame. They're good. They can stretch it from all five spots. It's a hard matchup for us in a lot of ways because it gets Jeff away from the basket defensively, and that's where he's so good is protecting the rim.

So you're right. We've had two classic games with them this year. The two games may be the two best games, most exciting games played in our league this year just about. There's been some other great games. But they both have been classics. We've been fortunate both games.

But we've also had some players step up and make some plays, too. But they're very capable beating anybody. We know we're going to have to play very well. We look forward to the challenge.

Q. In light of the controversy, your last game at Iowa State and the fact that the conference office even made a public statement about it, are you concerned that the officials tomorrow might be inclined to try to go the extra mile to make sure that Iowa State doesn't have any complaints?

COACH SELF: I hadn't thought about that because the officials are pros. I mean, they're pros. And that won't even register in an official's mind. If it does, then they're not a pro.

But we got good guys calling the games. We had good guys calling the games in Ames. I'm not going to make light of it. We benefited from a no call late. But there's a lot of calls during the course of a game. There's not just the calls that are at the very end of a game that can affect it. But there's a lot of calls during the course of the game, and we benefited and it created interest and controversy and attention and things like that.

But if in fact it would play out the way that you asked the question, then I would say that our league wouldn't be anywhere close to what it is. I mean, that won't even register in anybody's mind, I don't believe, going forward.

Great officials. Two good teams. Should be a lot of fun.

Q. Coach, just talk about the run at the end of the first half and start of the second half that opened up a close game and pretty much let you coast?

COACH SELF: We started the game great. And we ended the first half really well, even though it was a modest 5‑0 run, but it was one of those deals, 29‑25 I think, with the under four timeout and then we ended up finishing the half right to get it to 9.

And then of course I think it was Jeff's only points in the half was the last five we scored, if I'm not mistaken. And in the second half we came out. We played very well. Both halves got us off to a great start.

But the big thing we have to do defensively, we've got to play without fouling. We fouled way too much the second half. I think with about six minutes left they had two field goals but they've made 16 free throws or whatever. So we've gotta do a better job of that.

Q. Is Iowa State even more dangerous as they come into this tournament because they're one of the preeminent bubble teams?

COACH SELF: They're not a bubble team. I don't think Fred could sell to his team that they're a bubble team for motivation. They're in the tournament. And I also believe that he doesn't need to try real hard to motivate his team, just like I hope I don't have to try real hard to motivate mine.

So it will be two NCAA Tournament teams hooking up and playing tomorrow.

Q. Talk about the teaching points, you guys coming out of Waco, as you got ready for the tournament, and do you think that was good for the team to have those tough practices?

COACH SELF: Well, I don't think it's ‑‑ I'd rather learn through winning than learn through losing, but if you're going to lose, you might as well learn. And, you know, we'd been on a pretty good roll, winning seven in a row and playing some of our better ball during conference play during that stretch.

I don't know if I agree with Jeff. I don't think we came out flat; I think we came out just off a little bit, and I thought Baylor was really on. And it's a 30‑28 game. It's a 6‑point game with six minutes left. And there would be a lot of times when Baylor's playing really well that we'd have to play pretty well for it to be a 6‑point game with six minutes left.

And we didn't do that. But we just closed the game miserably and never put ourselves in a chance to win. So there were some things to learn. Because the biggest thing you can learn is there's no more safety nets. Just like the seniors playing. There's no safety net. You're on a tightrope and there's no net to catch anymore because there's not a next year. And the sophomores and juniors, there is a next year.

So that's the same way at the NCAA Tournament postseason, there's no safety net. So there needs to be some pressures like that to get your team to perform well. And that may have helped us a little bit, I don't really know. Jury is still out. We'll see what happens moving forward.

Q. Ben McLemore, the number of shots he's taken, his aggressiveness has been a story line all year. Obviously came out very aggressive tonight. Is there anything you've done or talked to him about, about as like clearly such a talented player, the type of skill that could carry you through a tournament if he is aggressive for whole games?

COACH SELF: I don't talk to Ben like that. I guess in baseball you can have a cleanup hitter that can carry a team during a stretch or something like that. I haven't approached Ben like that.

I know he's capable of getting 20, 25 any night. He knows he's capable of doing that. But the biggest thing he's gotta do is put himself in position to shoot the basketball or to drive it if they crowd him. And practice or in recent games or whatnot, he has done that.

So really since the Iowa State game up there ‑‑ he didn't put himself in the game at Iowa State as well. And I think he only had seven points. So that's something that I know, that we have to look at that tape and show him how he can be more aggressive in how they want to defend him.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

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