NORMAN, Okla. – If something continues to happen, is it something you should expect to happen?
Kansas took the court at the Lloyd Noble Center having won 22 consecutive conference openers. Road or home, Big Eight or Big 12 conferences, the last time the Jayhawks started 0-1 was in 1991 … when KU lost here the Sooners.
The streak is now 23.
After losing four non-conference games by a total of 17 points to teams that will probably be in the NCAA Tournament, the nine-time Big 12 champions had the whiff of vulnerability. Perhaps that’s still an issue but Wednesday night Kansas made sure it would be at the top of the standings. It was neither pretty nor easy, but the Jayhawks held off Oklahoma, 90-83.
“It’s very important to get a road win,” said Kansas junior point guard Naadir Tharpe. “We needed to start Big 12 play with a win.”
“Our league is great and this season is gonna be a monster,” KU coach Bill Self said. “Holding serve at home will be as hard as it’s ever been and stealing one like we did tonight is huge.”
The 18th-ranked Jayhawks (10-4, 1-0) were able to turn back the pesky Sooners (12-3, 1-1) thanks to freshman Wayne Selden and sophomore Perry Ellis. Selden, who has been reluctant to assert himself, had a career-high 24 points and was 5-of-10 on 3-pointers. Ellis had 22 points and 11 rebounds as KU had a 36-22 edge on the boards.
Kansas made 54.7 percent of its shots and was 11-of-25 on 3-point shots. Oklahoma came into the game with the long-range reputation but the Jayhawks limited the Sooners, third in the Big 12 in 3-point shooting, to 6-of-19 shooting from behind the arc.
“We need Wayne to be more aggressive, looking to score,” Self said of Selden, who was averaging 8.5 points per game. “He’s a starting two guard in this conference who has made 12 threes for the year. I told the guys, it’s new stats, new season.”
Selden’s fast start faded late in the first half. The Jayhawks had leads of seven and nine points at various points during the first 10 minutes. The Sooners, though, got back in the game thanks to an edge at the free throw line. A technical foul on Self led to four free throws and a 43-39 lead with 3:04 left before the break.
Kansas, though, closed the first half on an 11-1 run with the spark from an unexpected source. Freshman point guard Conner Frankamp matched his career high with five points and Ellis added six.
“Frankamp was big,” Ellis said. “He came out and stepped up. He gave us a boost right there before the half, gave us some momentum. We knew everybody in this game was going to play a big role.”
Oklahoma created defensive headaches that at times turned into migraines. The Sooners’ four-guard, perimeter-oriented scheme is predicated on creating mismatches, attacking off the dribble. Senior Cam Clark was the poster child of how OU plays. He scored 32 points in 29 minutes; foul troubled limited his time on the court.
“We couldn’t guard him,” Self said. “I’m glad he only played 29 minutes. If he had played 35 he would have had 40.”
Kansas led 50-44 at halftime and was able to expand that lead in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“That 11-1 run at the end of the half was a big momentum swing,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said.
Clark scored 14 of Oklahoma’s 17 points over the final 10 minutes and the Sooners were able to close to within four in the final two minutes but OU came up empty on its last four 3-point attempts.
“It all starts on defense. Defense wins games,” Clark said. “We’ve got to get together as a group and make that happen. We’ve played in spurts all year and that’s our identity but we can’t keep playing that way.”
Oklahoma started Big 12 play with a victory at Texas that came two days after the Sooners football team won the Sugar Bowl. OU wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who scored two touchdowns in the upset of Alabama, appeared in a pre-game video saying, "OK, basketball, we got our big win. Now it's time to get yours."
Not even an application of Sooner Magic could end the Jayhawks’ seemingly inevitable destiny to win their conference opener.