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Kansas Maintains 3-Team Tie By Smothering Texas
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By Wendell Barnhouse | wendell@big12sports.com
Big12Sports.com Correspondent

LAWRENCE, Kan. - OK, so let's spin this forward. Saturday's Big 12 results didn't resolve anything in terms of first place. Kanas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State started the day tied for first place. All three won in different fashion - the Cowboys in overtime, the Wildcats with efficiency and the Jayhawks were dominant.

Kansas, which last Monday ended a three-game losing streak with an impressive victory over Kanas State, kept things going Saturday night with a 73-47 victory over Texas. The Longhorns, coming off their best offensive effort of the season, were stifled and stymied by KU's defense, which limited the visitors to 21 percent shooting.

The last three weeks of the regular season starts Monday and the threesome at the top will draw considerable attention whenever they take the court. The next marquee matchup is Wednesday in Stillwater when Kansas visits Oklahoma State, which two weeks ago won in Allen Fieldhouse, a victory that pulled the Jayhawks back to the pack.

The Cowboys lost their Big 12 opener at Kansas State on Jan. 5 and they'll close the season by hosting the Wildcats on March 9. If home court means anything, Oklahoma State has a slight edge.

"We're going to be ready," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said after his team's 84-79 overtime victory over Oklahoma Saturday afternoon. "And make no mistake, Kansas is going to be ready. They're going to show video of us winning at their place and everything, but when it's all said and done, when that ball is thrown up, both teams have to play."

Just before tipoff in the Phog, Kansas State's 81-61 victory over Baylor went final. The decibel reading of 115 at tipoff. That's about what it sounds standing next to a jet at takeoff. And the Longhorns (11-14, 3-9) were never cleared for takeoff.

"If you ask me, I'd say they're as good as anybody in the country," Texas coach Rick Barnes said of Kansas "But I think this is the year, and I've said it from Day One, I think it's a year where there's a lot of teams that can do something special in March. I don't think there's a dominant team. I think Kansas has as good a chance as anybody, especially when they execute."

In their cathartic victory over K-State Monday, the Jayhawks (21-4, 9-3 were rock-chalking on offense. Saturday night, they were in lock-down mode on defense. KU entered the game leading Division I in field goal percentage defense at 36.1 percent. That improved to 35.6 percent after limiting the Longhorns to 12-of-55 shooting that included a frigid 2-of-21 on 3-pointers.

"There's not a team in America that has fun every time they go play, at the same level, the same consistent level," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "We were duds there for three games, but I think we've got our personality back."

Texas made three of its first seven shots and trailed 11-8 heading into the first media timeout at 15:41. Over the next 20 minutes, stretching into the second half, UT missed 10 consecutive 3-pointers and 29 of 34 shots. During that stretch, the Longhorns had shot clock violations on consecutive possessions.

Kansas shot 35.7 percent in the first half and led 28-15. With Texas failing to launch a threat in the second half, the Jayhawks eventually got happy on offense.

"Everybody is just playing," said KU senior Elijah Johnson, who got the Jayhawks off to a fast second half start with seven consecutive points. "Nobody is thinking. We're starting to enjoy ourselves more. I think with those losses, we showed how much we cared for each other."

The fans enjoyed the halftime ceremony that featured Mario Chalmers. The 2008 national championship hero had his No. 15 retired. The crowd also was entertained by a video showing the team dancing to the Harlem Shake, the latest viral craze.

"I didn't know what the Harlem Shake was," Self said. "I think something like that video shows a lot of team unity. Is having fun a big part of success? It's huge."

Missed shots and turnovers begat run outs and the Jayhawks doubled up on the scoreboard. The final 10 minutes evolved into highlights and shout outs. Freshman Ben McLemore won the dunk contest with a 360 slam. Jeff Withey, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds, set the Big 12 career blocked shot record with 265, passing Chris Mihm of Texas.

The students chanted for freshman walk on Tyler Self (the coach's son). They were doubly rewarded. Self entered the game with 2:33 remaining and scored on a floater in the lane. The fans also chanted an invitation to top high school prospect Julius Randle, who was on a recruiting visit.

Wooing high school stars is about next year, though, and now Kansas is thinking about its next game. Bill Self is an Oklahoma State graduate and his teams have historically struggled in Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"We'll find out a lot about ourselves on Wednesday," Self said. "That'll be our toughest game of the year, going into Stillwater."

 

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