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Oklahoma Knocks Slumping Kansas Out Of First Place
February 09, 2013
By Wendell Barnhouse | Correspondent

NORMAN, Okla. - This was the week that was for Kansas. A week ago, the Jayhawks were No. 1 in the coaches' poll and had the nation's longest winning streak (18 games).

Saturday afternoon, as Oklahoma students stormed the court to AC/DC's Thunderstruck, Kansas found itself thunderstruck and in a three-game losing streak for the first time since Feb. 21, 2005. Those Jayhawks had started 20-1 with a senior-dominated team and lost their third consecutive game to ... the Sooners.

"I see (fans storming the court) on TV all the time," OU's Steven Pledger said. "I always wanted to have that happen here. At the end of the game, I turned around and everybody was rushing to me and I started jumping, too."

Oklahoma (15-7, 6-4) and fifth-ranked (for now) Kansas (19-4, 7-3) each were desperate for a victory. With a sellout crowd that included plenty of Rock Chalkers, the Sooners got off to hot start and were determined in holding off every KU comeback. Oklahoma's 72-66 victory created chaos and community at the top of the Big 12 standings.

Kansas State, thanks to its 79-70 victory over Iowa State in Manhattan, is now alone atop the standings with an 8-2 record. Kansas and Oklahoma State are tied for second at 7-3 while Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor are all 6-4.

For the second consecutive road game, the opponents' fans celebrated on the court as the Jayhawks walked off the floor.

"I'm going to keep my head up regardless, whether they love or hate me," said Kansas senior point guard Elijah Johnson, who scored 10 points and was 3-of-11 from the floor. "You've got to take what you want. We're a changed team, we're different than two weeks ago. ... We're gonna fight through this and be all right.

"It's so easy to pout now. This happened for a reason. That's gonna be the message to my team. We're cool."

Oklahoma was hot. The Sooners were 15-of-27 from the floor (55.6 percent) in the first half to establish their presence. Kansas, which made just three field goals in the first half against TCU Wednesday night, was better. OU was unable to run away and it was 38-34 at halftime.

"I'm not disgusted with my team," said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team has won eight consecutive regular-season Big 12 titles. "We played a good team and they shot it well. We gave a good effort but it wasn't good enough. There are a lot of teams that have lost two to three games in a row or lose a game on the road.

"I just want my team to get better and not worry about the conference race."

During the three-game skid, Kansas has made strong moves in the second half. Oklahoma State and TCU both made plays down the stretch while the Jayhawks missed shots, gave up rebounds and turned it over.

Oklahoma twice made 3-pointers in the final four minutes that helped determine the outcome. The first helped turn away Kansas after it had pulled within one point. The second was the dagger.

After Travis Releford made one of two free throws (the Jayhawks were a poisonous 11-of-20 from the line) with 4:12 remaining Oklahoma's lead was 60-59. Je'lon Hornbeak missed a 3-pointer but Romero Osby (17 points, eight rebounds) elevated for the rebound and found Pledger on the right wing. He splashed the 3-pointer to make it 63-59.

"I want those shots, I have more confidence in those shots than I do in any part of the game," said Pledger, who finished with 15 points.

"We had gone triangle and two and the emphasis was on stopping Pledger," Self said. "Human nature ... the guy guarding Pledger sees a long rebound and goes for the ball. It was a broken-court play."

Hornbeak's miss was his first shot of the game. The ball and the spotlight found him over the final 1:29.

A Jeff Withey dunk with 1:40 remaining pulled the Jayhawks to within 63-61. Osby then passed up an open shot and found Hornbeak on the right wing. The freshman nailed the 3-pointer to make it 66-61. He made four of six free throws to prevent Kansas from gaining any ground.

"When coach put me in the game, he told me to be ready to shoot," Hornbeak said. "Big players make big shots. I like being at the free throw line at the end of a game when your team is looking to you. I didn't like missing two but the last two I made sure they were pure."

After a 3-0 start, Oklahoma had lost four of its last six, including Monday's dreadful performance at Iowa State.

"Any time you beat Kansas you feel good," said second-year coach Lon Kruger, who is trying to become the first coach to lead five different schools to the NCAA Tournament. "A spontaneous celebration, it's hard to put a value on that. It's a step but there are a lot of steps.

"I'm happy for the players. A lot of guys stepped up to make plays. We've had different guys play well on different nights. It's great because a lot of people feel great and are excited about the next game."

For Kansas, that next game is a Big Monday contest with Kansas State where the roles are suddenly reversed.

"Three in a row is a lot," said Withey, who had one blocked shot and tied the Kansas career record. "It's gonna get tougher. We've got to think about Monday. We're playing our rival at home. We need to get pumped up for that."

Johnson might have summed it up best: "Right now we're trying to figure that out. You can't ask a man who just got knocked out to count to 10."

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