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One more time: Oklahoma State and Kansas tangle again
Both times Kansas and Oklahoma State met on the basketball court during the regular season, the Cowboys' guard-oriented attack gave the Jayhawks some trouble.
The first time around, KU held off a second-half OSU surge to earn an 80-78 win at Allen Fieldhouse.
In the rematch, the Jayhawks weren't as lucky, and lost, 72-65, at Gallagher-Iba Arena, in Stillwater, Okla.
Now comes Cowboys vs. Jayhawks, Part 3 — in the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals at 2 p.m., at Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Mo.
One of the preseason Big 12 favorites is going home to regroup for the NCAAs. And it could be No. 10 Kansas (23-8) if the Cowboys (21-11) have their way.
OSU, after all, has won five of its last six games since Marcus Smart's return from his suspension, with its only loss coming in overtime at Iowa State — on the Cyclones' Senior Day.
Meanwhile, Kansas has lost two of its last three.
After Oklahoma State disposed of Texas Tech, 80-62, Wednesday night, coach Travis Ford uttered some words that should frighten any team that faces OSU from this point on: "I thought we ran our offense — for the first time — pretty complete for 40 minutes. We took good shots, we had good possessions."
That's right, the man in charge of this ultra-talented, if underachieving, group said Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte had not run the offense full throttle until now.
Of course, Texas Tech (14-18) isn't Kansas. But think about it this way: a team that already has split with KU is just starting to get it. And Kansas doesn't have 7-foot freshman center Joel Embiid to protect the paint this time.
OSU plans to attack KU off the dribble to get points in the paint. And if that works, Nash pointed out, it could mean difficulties for Kansas on more than one front.
"They bench is shorter now," Nash said Wednesday night. "We get 'em in foul trouble, maybe it can work out for us."
On that note, here's a brief refresher on OSU's core six players.
Marcus Smart, No. 33
6-4, 220, so. guard
— Jan. 18 at KU: 16 points, 3/14 FGs, 0/6 3s, 10/10 FTs, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals, 3 turnovers in 39 minutes.
— March 1 vs KU: 21 points, 5/14 FGs, 2/7 3s, 9/14 FTs, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers in 36 minutes.
Too strong to be slowed down by a foul, one of the nation's elite guards finishes through the contact he creates. Smart had a blast dismantling Texas Tech Wednesday night at the Sprint Center, where he made 6 of 10 shots, scored 18 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished seven assists and feasted on the Tech backcourt with six steals.
The Cowboys will go as far as Smart and Brown can take them in the next few weeks, and their first legit postseason test comes today, against Kansas.
Smart's season averages: 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.7 steals.
Markel Brown, No. 22
6-3, 190, sr. guard
— Jan. 18 vs. KU: 15 points, 5/13 FGs, 5/9 3s, 0/0 FTs, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 5 fouls in 28 minutes.
— March 1 vs KU: 21 points, 4/7 FGs, 3/5 3s, 10/10 FTs, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 2 turnovers in 38 minutes.
The chemistry Brown has with Smart in the backcourt makes OSU's talented backcourt all the more difficult to handle. The two can make eye contact on the perimeter and the next thing you know, Brown is catching a lob above the rim for an alley-oop.
Brown will step on the floor today feeling good, because he went for 20 points and hit 3 of 6 3-pointers against Tech less than 24 hours earlier.
While Brown can burn you on the perimeter with his touch (38.6% on 3s), he will gladly drive by his man for a layup or slam, too.
He averages 17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, plus 3.0 assists.
Le'Bryan Nash, No. 2
6-7, 235, jr. wing
— Jan. 18 vs. KU: 10 points, 5/11 FGs, 0/2 FTs, 5 rebounds (3 offensive), 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 4 fouls in 22 minutes.
— March 1 vs KU: 16 points, 6/9 FGs, 4/5 FTs, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, 2 turnovers in 33 minutes.
Le'Bryan "Slash" took a back seat to Smart and Brown most of the Big 12 Tournament opener, but still produced 10 points — mainly by getting to the foul line, where he went 6 of 7.
Like Smart and Brown, Nash is too quick and strong for many perimeter defenders to deal with. He averages 14.0 points and 5.6 rebounds, and makes 52.5% of his shots.
Phil Forte, No. 13
5-11, 185, so. guard
— Jan. 18 vs. KU: 23 points, 7/11 FGs, 7/10 3s, 2/2 FTs, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers in 30 minutes.
— March 1 vs KU: 2 points, 1/6 FGs, 0/4 3s, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 1 turnover in 39 minutes.
It's almost bizarre to think OSU defeated Kansas in Stillwater with Forte going 0-for-the-game from 3-point range and only scoring two points.
It appeared the sophomore sniper might end up having a similar night against Tech on Wednesday. Forte didn't hit a shot until the 15:43 mark of the second half. Not that it mattered. The sophomore guard's 91st three-pointer of the season put Tech's deficit at 51-32. And he went on to score 14 points on 4 of 9 3-point shooting.
The kind of 3-point marksman Kansas hopes Conner Frankamp can become, Forte has made 94 3-pointers this season on 208 attempts (45.2%). Seventy-six percent of his shots come from behind the arc.
Kamari Murphy, No. 21
6-8, 220, so. post
— Jan. 18 vs. KU: 12 points, 5/10 FGs, 2/2 FTs, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 4 fouls, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 2 blocks in 38 minutes.
— March 1 vs KU: 8 points, 3/8 FGs, 2/2 FTs, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 1 turnover and 5 fouls in 30 minutes.
Even with Embiid playing, Murphy enjoyed more success against Kansas than he has, on average, this season.
If KU help defenders come over to cut off drives by Smart, Brown and Nash, Murphy figures to benefit with open looks at the rim.
He averages 6.0 points and 6.2 rebounds this season, and leads OSU with 40 blocked shots (five more than Brown).
Murphy only scored two points and had one rebound against Tech, and he picked up four fouls in 14 minutes.
Brian Williams, No. 4
6-5, 210, jr. wing
— Jan. 18 vs. KU: 2 points, 1/5 FGs, 0/1 3s, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 1 steal in 21 minutes.
— March 1 vs KU: 4 points, 1/2 FGs, 2/2 FTs, 3 steals and 1 turnover in 11 minutes.
Williams scored five of his six points against Tech in the first half, and went 4 for 5 at the foul line in OSU's easy win.
On the year, he averages 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Note: Fellow backup Leyton Hammonds gave OSU its first points of the game Wednesday night against Texas Tech, with a 3-pointer, after the Pokes fell behind, 8-0, prior to the first media timeout. Hamonds had gone scoreless in OSU's three previous games in limited minutes.