Jayhawks Beat Wildcats, Push to Big 12 Finals

By JEFF LATZKE, AP Sports Writer
March 10, 2007

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- No matter the location, no matter the style, No. 2 Kansas keeps showing it's the premier basketball program in the state.

Mario Chalmers scored 16 points and the Jayhawks held off a second-half charge from Kansas State to win 67-61 on Saturday and advance to the Big 12 championship game.

Kansas (29-4) won for the 35th time in its last 36 games against Kansas State, and this victory came as the teams met for only the second time outside of Kansas City, Mo., or their home state.

The Jayhawks won in the only other venue in the century-old rivalry -- a 1988 NCAA tournament regional final in Pontiac, Mich. -- and they're now 1-0 against the Wildcats at Oklahoma City's Ford Center, too. All 261 other games have been played in Kansas or just across the Missouri border.

"Today had a different feel to me," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "It wasn't as much of a rivalry game as it was a game where two teams had goals and they are trying to reach them.

"It wasn't a hatred-type game today."

The Jayhawks, who average 78.5 points, weren't able to showcase their athletic skills with their usual barrage of highlight-reel plays and transition baskets. Instead, they beat the Wildcats at their own grind-it-out game and bolstered their case for a No. 1 seed on the NCAA bracket.

"We always have a style and tempo we want to play," said Kansas forward Julian Wright, who had 12 points and eight rebounds. "But whatever the mode of the game is, we have to be able to make adjustments in tournament games. You've got to feel out the situation and just try to execute, especially down the stretch."

Chalmers put Kansas in control with consecutive 3-pointers to make it 43-31 in the opening minutes of the second half, and the Jayhawks eventually pushed ahead by 14 on a 3-pointer by Brandon Rush.

Cartier Martin capped an 8-0 run with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to get the fourth-seeded Wildcats within 56-52 with 4:11 remaining, and they had a chance to bring it closer in the final 2 minutes, but Rush dove to create a jumpball, regaining possession for the Jayhawks.

Wright responded with a spinning jumper in the lane that extended Kansas' lead to 62-54 with 1:05 to play. Kansas State couldn't get closer than six after that.

In Bob Huggins' first season as coach, the Wildcats (22-11) were left to hope that a quarterfinal win against fellow bubble team Texas Tech was enough to put them over the top for their first NCAA tournament bid since 1996.

Huggins said he didn't see how the loss to the Jayhawks could hurt his team.

"Correct me if I'm wrong. Don't they say play the best competition you can play? I mean, everybody has Kansas as a No. 1 seed," Huggins said. "Does losing to a No. 1 seed knock you out? I wouldn't think so."

Martin led the Wildcats with 17 points, Lance Harris scored 16 and Akeem Wright had 12 points. David Hoskins, the team's second-leading scorer with a 14.5-point average, committed a career-high eight turnovers while scoring only eight points.

The Wildcats stayed in the game by preventing Kansas from extending its dominance on the boards. The Jayhawks had outrebounded Kansas State by 43 in sweeping the teams' two regular-season meetings.

This time, the Wildcats had a 23-13 rebounding edge in the second half and ended up with only three less than Kansas for the game.

"I think we've done what it takes to get into the tournament," Martin said.

Kansas takes its second 10-game winning streak of the season into Sunday's Big 12 title game against either No. 15 Texas, the tournament's No. 3 seed, or seventh-seeded Oklahoma State. The Jayhawks haven't won more than 10 in a row since a 14-game streak to start the 2004-05 season.

The Jayhawks, who are the defending tournament champs, are going for their fifth Big 12 tournament title. No other team has won more than three.

And Self likes the way the Jayhawks are playing heading in.

"We know we can play when we're able to do this," Self said. "For us to not get a lot of easy baskets and to have to grind it out, even though it wasn't artistic it was good for us to play in this game.

"I think we're becoming a team that can play whatever the game is."

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