KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The last seven times Kansas State and Kansas met in the Big 12 tournament, the Jayhawks came out on top.
Saturday was no different, as No. 7 KU defeated No. 11 K-State 70-54 in the Big 12 Championship final at the Sprint Center, marking the third win over the Wildcats for Kansas this season.
The first time the teams met this season they played to a close finish in Manhattan. But in the game in Lawrence, the Jayhawks cruised to a rout of K-State. In Round 3, it was an eight-point lead for KU at halftime, but the Wildcats got no closer than three points the rest of the way.
The Jayhawks (29-5) shot 49 percent from the field, holding K-State to 35 percent, including just 22 percent in the first half.
Angel Rodriguez said the Wildcats just couldn’t get the shots to fall.
“The best thing we did was shoot free throws, and we shot 50 percent, so that says a lot,” he said. “I thought we had open shots — a lot of times they just didn’t go in. I guess we’ve got to give them a lot of credit as well. And I guess it wasn’t our night offensively.”
The Wildcats (27-7) seemed to play good defense in the first half, holding Kansas to just 24 points. But K-State had only 16 points in the first half.
By the second half, KU seemed unstoppable, shooting 55 percent and racking up 10 assists.
But the big plays from the Jayhawks came on defense, where they forced K-State into 10 turnovers and disrupted the flow of the offense.
“They really did a good job of going over our screens and helping out on Rodney (McGruder) and Angel, pressuring the ball,” Jordan Henriquez said. “That’s what they do and we lost to them three times.”
Despite trailing by eight points to start the second half, K-State opened with a 5-0 run pull within three points at 24-21. The Wildcats managed to stay within striking distance until the Jayhawks went on a 12-3 run in less than 4 minutes to go ahead by 12 points.
The Wildcats never seemed to get a run going from there. Every time K-State made a positive play to gain momentum, Kansas was there to answer. And even when the Wildcats forced the Jayhawks to turn it over, they just couldn’t capitalize.
Shane Southwell said the Jayhawks simply don’t fold under pressure.
“Most of the teams in the Big 12 are probably more talented, but not every team starts four seniors,” he said. “They’re not going to break, they’re really disciplined, they’ve obviously got a great coach, great program, and when you punch them, you know they’re going to punch back.”
McGruder led the Wildcats with 18 points, scoring 14 in the second half. Rodriguez had 10 points.
McGruder said he came into the game extremely focused. But it just wasn’t enough.
“I just wanted this victory very badly,” he said. “We worked so hard, worked so hard to get here, just to let it slip.”
Jeff Withey led Kansas with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis each scored 12 points off the bench.
The Wildcats used a 7-0 run in the first half to take an 11-8 lead, but the Jayhawks responded with a 12-1 run to go ahead 20-12. The Wildcats could never close that gap for the remainder of the half.
K-State coach Bruce Weber said he thought KU’s defense kept his team from getting into a rhythm offensively.
“We had some uncharacteristic turnovers because I think they were doing such a good job defensively — we got impatient,” he said. “Angel, he thinks he can take on any giant, and sometimes you can’t. You got to kick it out, make the next pass, and when he did, we just didn’t jump up.”
The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 14-4 conference record and shared the Big 12 title with Kansas. But Kansas coach Bill Self said beating K-State for the third time this season said a lot about his team.
“I was really glad, personally, we got a chance to play K-State, because even though we tied — we left little doubt leaving out of here, beating them three times that we are pretty good, he said. “We stubbed our toe a couple times we shouldn’t have.
Southwell said nothing can take away from the season K-State has had to this point.
“You can’t take the fact away that we won 14 games,” he said. “We won 14 games, they won 14 games.
“We lost three games to them, but you can’t take that away. We both shared that title.”
Weber declines comment on fouls
The Wildcats battled tough foul situations on Saturday, with both halfs opening up to 6-0 foul advantages for Kansas.
The final foul count of the game was 15-9, with many of the Jayhawks fouls coming in the final few minutes.
After Self was called for a technical against Iowa State midway through the first half on Friday, the Jayhawks committed just 12 fouls the rest of the tournament.
Weber said he didn’t want to comment on the fouls, and pointed to KU’s success on the inside, scoring 36 points, as reasons for the loss.
“We’ve got to do a better job of executing, screening,” he said. “It was a low-scoring game in the first half, but it seemed like when we broke down we gave them easy layups and points in the paint — they’re so good at it.
“That’s the difference in the game.”
McGruder, Rodriguez earn tourney honors
Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez were each named to the All-Big 12 Championship Team, joining Kansas’ Jeff Withey and Perry Ellis, and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart.
The Most Outstanding Player award was given to Withey.