Jayhawks Bounce Back, Beat Wildcats To Tie For Big 12 Lead

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Ben McLemore celebrated his 20th birthday. Jeff Withey celebrated another record.

Kansas celebrated things getting back to normal.

After struggling through their longest losing streak in eight years, a maddening three-game skid, the 14th-ranked Jayhawks returned to the friendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night and took out all their pent up frustration on in-state rival Kansas State.

McLemore, serenaded by the raucous crowd, scored 30 points. Withey had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks to break Greg Ostertag's school record for career rejections. And the high-flying Jayhawks got back to their winning ways with an 83-62 rout of the 10th-ranked Wildcats, forging a tie with them for first place in the Big 12.

''We just played as a team tonight,'' Withey said. ''We played Kansas basketball.''

Played it for the first time in a while.

The Jayhawks had lost three straight for the first time since February 2005, a stretch that included a loss to TCU, which still hasn't defeated anybody else in conference play. Their offense had been abysmal, their defense not much better, and fans were starting to worry.

This one ought to set them at ease.

The Jayhawks used two big runs in the first half to take a 47-29 lead at the break, and then thwarted every rally the veteran Wildcats tried to muster down the stretch.

The result has become predictable: Kansas won for the 11th time in 12 games between the schools, 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.

''What we were going through is what 99 percent of teams in America go through,'' Kansas coach Bill 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.''

Rodney McGruder had 20 points and Angel Rodriguez added 17 for the Wildcats. But they never seemed to be in the game, despite riding a four-game winning streak and coming into one of college basketball's best venues as the higher ranked team for the first time since Feb. 20, 1982.

They were outrebounded 41-23. They watched Kansas outscore them 19-2 on second-chance baskets. They were dominated in the paint, 34-16.

''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.''

Most of the Jayhawks' struggles the past two weeks have centered on their offense, which had produced just 13 points in the first half of that embarrassing loss to TCU last Wednesday night.

That wasn't much of a problem against the Wildcats.

McLemore was 9 of 13 from the field and 6 of 10 from 3. Kevin Young had 13 points, Travis Releford added 10, and Naadir Tharpe had seven points with eight assists and only one turnover.

Then there was Withey, whose 263 blocks not only broke Ostertag's school record but drew him within one of the Big 12 record, held by Chris Mihm of Texas.

''I'm not satisfied, obviously,'' Withey said. ''I want to break the conference record.''

He'll have plenty more chances as the Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) pursue their ninth straight Big 12 championship, a title the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) are also eyeing.

''I told them if we win the rest of our games, we win our league,'' Weber said. ''It'll be tough, but at the same time, that's how we have to approach it.''

Kansas made life miserable for the Wildcats from the opening tip.

Young, their all-energy forward, started their big first-half 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 from the wing forced the Wildcats to call time out.

It didn't do much to ebb the tide.

Kansas put together another 14-3 run a few minutes later, and then used 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 taking a 47-29 halftime lead. 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.

Kansas State got within 58-43 early in the second half, but Withey stopped 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 from the foul line.

Withey rejected McGruder again at the other end, and this time Travis Releford had the putback to restore the Jayhawks' 20-point lead at 63-43 with 11:59 remaining.

''They hit a couple 3s, but they also had a lot of easy dunks,'' Wildcats guard Will Spradling said. ''The crowd feeds off that as well.''

The crowd started celebrating early as the Jayhawks handed Weber - who once followed Self as the man in charge at Illinois - his third loss in three tries against Kansas.

Not to mention Kansas State's sixth straight loss in Lawrence.

''All the things that got us where we are, our defense, our toughness, our discipline, they weren't there today. That's disappointing,'' Weber said, ''because I just thought we'd compete a little better than this. It's a tough environment and we caught them at the wrong time, but it should have been a more competitive game.''


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