MANHATTAN, KAN. Kansas University players were plenty excited Saturday as they jumped up and down and let out screams Saturday as they ran into their lockerroom at Bramlage Coliseum.
KU had reason to celebrate as its 66-52 win over its in-state rival gave the Jayhawks their 18-straight victory against Kansas State in Bramlage Coliseum since the building opened in 1989 and 23rd win in a row in Manhattan. The victory also avenged the K-State win in Allen Fieldhouse Jan. 14 that broke a string of 31-straight KU wins in the Sunflower Series.
Also, at the very least, No. 18 Kansas claimed a part of an unprecedented sixth Big 12 championship with the victory. The Jayhawks could win the title outright if Oklahoma beats Texas in Austin, Texas tomorrow.
"It was without question the happiest lockerroom we've had all year," said KU coach Bill Self, whose squad improved to 21-8 on the year and ended the Big 12 regular season with a 13-3 mark. "
Kansas, which has won 12 of its last 13 Big 12 contests, was led by Brandon Rush, who tied a career-high with 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson added 14, and 11 points respectively as the Jayhawks connected on 10-of-19 three-pointers.
"I just started being more aggressive in the second half," said Rush, who scored 16 of his game-high total in the second half. "The point guards were finding me and I was getting open shots. My shots started dropping and I was getting kind of hot."
The Jayhawks freshman's biggest buckets came when the Wildcats had cut KU's 15-point halftime advantage to three with 11:53 to go.
Rush, who banked-in a three to put KU up 39-24 just before the buzzer ended the first half, burried back-to-back threes from the left corner. After his first trey, K-State's Cartier Martin hit a triple of his own. But Rush's second bomb ignited a big run as KU closed out another win in Manhattan with a 17-6 spurt.
Kansas State did not hit a field goal over the last 10:55 after Martin's three.
"We got back into the game, but we had some key turnovers down the stretch that kind of put the momentum back on their side," said Martin, who led the Wildcats with 17 points.
"I don't think it was the defense, although they are a good team and they play great defense. I think it was just the mistakes we made and we didn't take care of the ball."
KSU coach Jim Wooldridge -- who after the game was asked if he thought he had coached his last game in Manhattan, but said that answer has been a "dormant" issue and would continue to be one until after the season -- said K-State had too many senseless turnovers to give itself a chance against pulling its first season sweep of Kansas since 1983.
"We can't beat a quality opponent like Kansas turning over the ball 21 times -- steals, needless turnovers off the dribble, off the pass," Wooldridge said. "We lost the ball game on the offensive end of the floor. That's where we lost it.
"I wasn't disappointed how we played defensively. Our inability to play tough with the ball, handle the ball better, get the ball to move and help each other find shots and so forth was the difference in the game."
Self praised the Wildcats afterwards, saying he thought they were one of the tougher Big 12 teams down the stretch. But those words will mean little for Wooldridge's job status. Speculation in recent weeks is that the KSU coach in his sixth-year has to go to the NCAA tournament in order to retain his position. As of Saturday, K-State (15-12, 6-10 Big 12) has just six conference wins for the fourth-straight season.
"There's not been this doom and gloom over the top of our heads," Wooldridge said. "I think our team has been supported well by our base of fans out there. I just don't feel bad about what we're doing right now. The topic your talking about remains and has been dormant. It's just not something we concentrate on."
Things were obviously quite a bit brighter in Self's postgame press conference.
"From a coach's perspective, if I watched Jim Wooldridge's team or Rick Barnes' team it makes a difference," said Self, of a K-State team that has lost nine games by five points or less. "Your job is based on how you do with the potential you have. That's why i think Jim is a great coach. I think that Kansas State is one of the best four teamsin our league in the last half of the Big 12 season.
Self said Saturday's win was not only sweet because KU was able to beat a team that beat the Jayhawks earlier in the season, but because of the strides his young squad has made.
"We were 1-2 and not very good, guys got confidence and young guys grew up, and we got pretty good late," Self said. "So to me I have more pride in the team that is not expected to (win), than a team that is expected to."
Second Half Action
Kansas State scored the first eight points of the second half to cut KU's lead to seven.
Brandon Rush finally got the Jayhawks back on the scoreboard with a lay-up three minutes into the half. Jeff Hawkins followed with a drive of his own, but a rebound and putback by KSU's David Hoskins cut K-State's lead to 41-34 as the Wildcats are on a 10-4 run.
K-State, which has outrebounded KU 8-0 to start the second half, cut its deficit to 43-36 with two free throws by Cartier Martin.
Rush hit a jumper and Russell Robinson hit a free throw. With 13:09 left, C.J. Giles picked up his fourth foul. Sasha Kaun has three fouls.
Martin hit a three-pointer from the right wing to cut the score to seven, 46-39. Lance Harris hit two free throws and KU had a turnover.
Harris again went back to the line as he was fouled on a drive and again hit both charities to cut K-State's deficit to 46-43 with just under 12 minutes to play in the game.
Rush burried a three-pointer from the left corner to put KU back up by six.
But Martin came right back and hit a three of his own, to cut the game to three again.
Rush hit another three from the left corner after a steal by Chalmers.
K-State had a shot-clock violation, but Kansas had a turnover. KU still leads 52-46 with a timeout with 7:55 to go.
Hoskins hit 1-of-2 free throws to cut KSU's deficit to five. KU missed a three as Chalmers is 0-for-4 in the second half, and then the Jayhawks committed a turnover.
But K-State turned the ball back over. Wright tipped in a jumper to make the score 54-47.
Wright came up with a loose ball on the floor, was able to flip the ball up to Rush, who threw down a two-hand dunk for the nine-point KU lead.
Chalmers missed a three, but then Robinson burried a three from the left wing after Rush kept the possession alive. The Jayhawks, who lead 59-47 with under five minutes to go, are on a 12-4 run.
Harris hit a free throw for KSU, but Giles hit a charity for KU.
Four K-State free throws cut KU's lead down again to single digits with under three minutes to play.
With 2:48 to go Rush hit a one-and-one free throw, then swished the second charity to put KU back up by 10, 62-52. Robinson drilled a jumper in the lane ot put KU up by 12.
Rush missed a floater, but got his own rebound and scored to put KU ahead 66-52 with a little more than a minute left.
Kansas State came out of the gates strong, but the Jayhawks went on a 16-1 run midway through the first half -- including three straight KU three-pointers -- to take a commanding lead as Kansas tries to win its 23rd straight game in Manhattan.
Brandon Rush's off-balance, off-glass three-pointer right before the buzzer gave the Jayhawks a 39-24 lead at the break.
KU, which hit 7-of-10 three-pointers, was led by Mario Chalmers' 14 points. Rush added eight, and Jeff Hawkins chipped in five.
K-State was led by Dramane Diarra and Cartier Martin, who each scored seven.
The Jayhawks outrebounded the Wildcats 21-15 and had an 11-6 advantage on points off turnovers as each squad had eight give-aways.
First Half Action
Kansas won the tip and Sasha Kaun was fouled as he took a lob pass from Russell Robinson. Robinson then missed a long jumper.
K-State turned it over on its first possession.
Brandon Rush missed a three-pointer from the left wing.
KSU's Dramane Diarra, who hit a handful of long jumpers in K-State's win in Lawrence, hit a long jumper to open the scoring Saturday.
Akeem Wright scored on a lay-in underneath.
Robinson answered with a shot in the lane for KU's first bucket and cut the score to 4-2 two minutes into the game.
Cariter Martin missed a pair of free throws.
KU followed with a turnover, and Wright came back and hit a shot in the lane for the four-point lead.
An over-and-back call on KU gave KSU back the ball, but Mario Chalmer came up with a steal and Wright grabbed his jersey for an intentional foul.
Chalmers hit both free throws and the Jayhawks retain possession. The KU freshman gave the Jayhawks their first lead when the burried a three-pointer from the top of the key for the 7-6 advantage.
KU's Kaun picked up his second foul right before the first media timeout with 15:52 to go in the first half.
Robinson hit a three from the left side and C.J. Giles threw down a big dunk as KU has scored 10 unanswered points for a 12-6 lead.
David Hoskins hit a free throw to stop KSU's drought.
Darnell Jackson, who didn't play against Colorado because of the flu, missed a shot down low but got his own rebound and was fouled. The KU big man hit his second charity to give KU a 13-7 lead.
Chalmers hit two more free throws to give KU an eight-point advantage, as Chalmers has scored seven quick points. Chalmers came up with his 80th steal of the season to tie up with KU legend Darnell Valentine for steals by a freshman.
Jeff Hawkins hit a three for KU, which on a 16-1 over the last five minutes.
Mario Taybron answered with a trey for the Wildcats.
Rush hit a three the other way for KU, but Diarra answered with a long shot.
But Kansas came down the court and knocked down its third-consecutive triple as Chalmers nailed another bomb for the 24-12 lead with a little more than 10 minutes left in the half.
K-State coach Jim Wooldridge was whistled for a technical and Chalmers hit the charity.
Cartier Martin hit a three and another Wildcat jumper cut K-State's deficit to single digits.
Hawkins came up with a steal and lay-up.
Chalmers hit his third three of the first half from the top of the key with six and a half minutes to go. The KU freshman has 14 points as KU leads KSU 30-17.
Giles had a big block and Wright took and offensive charge by Taybron.
Martin hit a tough shot in the lane, but Jackson scored on his own putback.
Rush hit a mid-range jumper to give KU a 34-21 lead.
Wright scored on an easy lay-up off a nice assist by Robinson.
Diarra hit a free throw and Lance Harris scored inside to cut the score to 36-24.
Right before the buzzer, Rush banked-in an off-balance three-pointer to put KU up 39-24 after the first 20 minutes.
Kansas University's basketball team might be playing for an unprecedented sixth Big 12 crown when it takes on Kansas State today at 3 p.m. in Bramlage Coliseum, but the Jayhawks also want revenge.
Payback for the loss KU suffered to KSU in Allen Fieldhouse on Jan. 14, when the Wildcats snapped their 31-game losing streak to their in-state rivals.
"I've been getting a lot of e-mails from people saying, 'Go get the 'Cats. Kill them.'" said KU senior Jeff Hawkins. "Everybody wants us to go down there and pay them back 'cause they beat us in the fieldhouse."
While there is plenty of motivation for Kansas, which is not only playing for its 49th overall league crown and a higher seeding in the NCAAs, Kansas State has ideas of snapping another streak.
K-State has lost 22 straight games to KU in Manhattan - 17 straight in Bramlage and five in old Ahearn Fieldhouse.
"It has no impact whatsoever on what's going to happen in the game," KSU coach Jim Wooldridge said.
"We have a lot more positive motivation to play this ballgame than what happened in 1983, '84, '85. We're playing good basketball and will be playing a great team."
KU coach Bill Self agreed, saying streaks are played up more in the media than serving for motivation to players.
"The streak from a coach's perspective is so overrated," Self said, "because what's happened with that deal where one team beats the other 31 times in a row will never happen again - at least in our lifetimes.
"It's an unbelievable thing. We haven't put much if any emphasis on that at all."
Kansas has won 11 of its last 12 games and is 18-3 since Dec. 10. The Jayhawks are scoring 75.7 points per game and their +15 scoring margin ranks seventh nationally. Kansas leads the nation in field goal percentage defense at 36.6 percent and its 18.2 assists per game are fifth nationally.
Brandon Rush leads the Big 12 freshman class in scoring at 13.7 points per game - 14th overall in the league. Rush leads KU in rebounding and his six per game are 13th in the conference. He is also sixth in the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 49.5 percent.
Freshman Mario Chalmers leads the league in steals at 2.79 to go along with his 10.8 scoring average. Chalmers' 3.82 assists per contest are eighth in the league and his 77.8 free throw percentage is fifth. Freshman Julian Wright - 8.6 ppg and 4.4 rpg - has entered the starting lineup since Jan. 25. Sophomore Sasha Kaun is another starter who is averaging 8.3 ppg and shooting 58.3 percent from the field. Sophomore C.J. Giles leads the team in blocked shots with 1.57 per game - sixth in the Big 12.
In Kansas State's 15 conference games, 11 have been decided four points or less. The Wildcats are 4-7 in those games, including a 66-64 win at Nebraska Wednesday. K-State averages 69 points per game and is giving up 63.4.
Junior Cartier Martin ranks fourth in the Big 12 with an 18.3 scoring average. His team-high 6.6 rebounds per contest are 11th in the league. Martin leads the conference in free throw percentage at 84.4 percent and has made a team best 47 three-point field goals. Sophomore David Hoskins is next in scoring at 12.8 points per game followed by junior Lance Harris at 10.9 ppg. Kansas State is 13-3 at home this season, including a 4-3 mark in Big 12 play.
Kansas has won 31 of the last 32 meetings with Kansas State dating back to the 1990 season. The Wildcats ended the string with a 59-55 win in Lawrence on Jan. 14. Kansas holds a 170-89 all-time series advantage over the Wildcats, including a 69-43 mark in games played in Manhattan and a 17-0 record in Bramlage Coliseum.
Kansas State's last regular-season series sweep of KU was in 1983, which was the last time K-State defeated KU in Manhattan - a string of 22 games. Last season, Kansas defeated Kansas State three times -- 74-65 in Manhattan, 72-65 in Lawrence on Senior Night and 80-67 in the quarterfinals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The Jayhawks won the first-ever meeting with K-State, 54-39, on Jan. 25, 1907, in Lawrence.
While Martin said the Wildcats aren't playing up the streak angle, admitted it would be a big accomplishment.
"It's going to be a big night for us. It's our Senior Night, and our guys are going to be really excited to play," he said. "We've just got to play like we did at their place."