KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas had just been battered by Oklahoma State for the second time this season, a humiliating loss in Stillwater that sent the Jayhawks into the Big 12 Tournament rubbing their bruised egos.
Then the Cowboys raced out to a 10-point lead in their quarterfinal matchup.
Rather than fold, though, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks showed the kind of toughness they’ve been missing much of this season. Malik Newman scored a career-high 30 points, their backup big men made up for the absence of injured center Udoka Azubuike, and coach Bill Self’s squad pulled away in the second half for an 82-68 victory over the Cowboys on Thursday.
“This team is easy to nitpick with because when we’re good, it’s magnified in ways because we can shoot and move the ball, and when we’re bad it’s magnified because we don’t do the things in grind-it-out games that a lot of teams do,” Self said. “Sometimes I think we get a little spoiled on what our expectations are, but I’m real proud of them. I think they competed hard for the most part.”
Svi Mykhailiuk added 13 points and Devonte Graham had 10 points, four rebounds and nine assists for the No. 1 seed Jayhawks (25-7), who were swept by the Cowboys (19-14) in the regular season. But they rose to the occasion when it mattered, setting up a date with Kansas State on Friday.
The Wildcats beat TCU in an overtime thriller earlier Thursday.
“We just wanted to come out, be aggressive and play tough,” Newman said, “because we haven’t played tough against those guys. We wanted to execute, have fun and be tough.”
Jeffrey Carroll scored 17 points and Kendall Smith had 14 for the No. 8 seed Cowboys, who can only hope their opening-round win over Oklahoma solidified their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re a tournament team. We’ve proven that all season long,” Smith said. “Especially to see the kind of basketball we’re playing right now, I definitely think we should get in.”
Azubuike sprained the MCL in his left knee in practice Tuesday, causing him to miss the entire weekend. The Jayhawks hope to have him back for the NCAA Tournament next week.
Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa combined for 14 points and 14 rebounds in his place.
“We showed we can play without Doke,” Mykhailiuk said. “We can still win.”
Oklahoma State threatened to run the Jayhawks out of the building early on, just as it did in an 82-64 rout in Stillwater on Saturday. Yakuba Sima took advantage of the inside space where Azubuike usually roams, and Carroll’s 3-point barrage gave Oklahoma State an early 10-point lead.
That’s when the Jayhawks finally caught fire, going on an 18-4 charge to turn things around. It was Newman leading the way with a trio of 3-pointers, part of his 20 first-half points.
He kept the hot hand going early in the second half, scoring seven points during another big run — this one 14-0 — that made it 66-50 and forced Cowboys coach Mike Boynton to call timeout.
Boynton said after his team’s rough-and-tumble win over the Sooners that he didn’t buy into the notion that beating a team three times was any more difficult than beating it once. But Boynton didn’t address the challenge that comes with winning two games in fewer than 24 hours.
With 15 minutes left against Kansas, the Cowboys’ legs looked shot.
The Jayhawks’ game-breaking run coincided with a scoreless drought for Oklahoma State that went on for more than 7 1/2 minutes. At one point midway through the half, the Cowboys were 4 for 17 from the floor and had made more turnovers (five) than field goals.
Oklahoma State made a couple of late runs, but he Jayhawks were never in danger of letting their lead slip, locking up at least 25 wins for an NCAA-record 13th consecutive season.
“I won’t say fatigue wasn’t a factor,” Boynton said, “but we knew that coming in. We put ourselves in that scenario and Kansas earned the right to have the extra day of rest.”
Oklahoma State had a 53-27 rebounding advantage against Oklahoma. But the Cowboys only had a 36-33 edge against Kansas, even with Azubuike out with the knee injury.
Kansas set a school record for 3-pointers in a season (319) when Lagerald Vick knocked one down with 3:49 to go. The Jayhawks have relied on the outside shot all year, but it came in handy with their biggest post presence sitting on the bench.
Oklahoma State waits anxiously to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
Kansas tries to beat the Wildcats for the third time this season.