By Steve Wieberg
Top-seeded Kansas, seeking its sixth Big 12 tournament championship in eight years, overwhelmed Texas Tech in the second half of a 91-63 victory. Next up for the Jayhawks: a drama-filled semifinal vs. Iowa State.
The Jayhawks' Ben McLemore kick-started the KU runaway with two three-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half, and finished with four treys and a total of 24 points.
Kansas shot 69% in the final 20 minutes and 66% (31-for-47) for the game. Texas Tech, meanwhile, made just one field goal – and took only six official shots – in the first 10-plus minutes of the second half as KU expanded a seven-point lead to 22.
Start spreading the news …
Actually, no need. The buzz in Kansas City's Power & Light District already is palpable as Kansas (27-5) heads into its third meeting of the season with Iowa State. The first two were memorable, both involving great KU escapes in regulation and ending in victories by the Jayhawks in overtime.
"Both," Kansas coach Bill Self says, "have been classics."
Hours after Iowa State punched its ticket into the semifinal bracket, the Jayhawks took care of overmatched, ninth-seeded Texas Tech. McLemore's two treys punctuated a run of 10 unanswered points early in the second half, putting KU ahead 44-27. A few minutes later, after a four-point play by Travis Releford – on a layup and two free throws after a flagrant Texas Tech foul – it was a 21-point spread, 52-31.
Tech (11-20) coughed up turnovers, and mostly misfired on the few shots it could muster against the Jayhawks' ratcheted-up defense. The Red Raiders drew some fouls and made some free throws, but it was scarcely enough to hold off the Kansas onslaught.
"When they start attacking like that, they're so difficult to guard from every position – from their point guard to their big men," said junior forward Dejan Kravic, who led the Red Raiders with 20 points. "They have pros on their team. I mean, it's tough to stop."
"That's what Kansas is," Tech coach Chris Walker said. "That's what we aspire to be, to have those type of players and have that type of success.
"We battled them as long as we could, and I thought our guys did a great job of doing that. We had them on the ropes a little bit. But … they're experienced. They've won a lot. It's the culture there."
Iowa State won't be cowed, though. The Cyclones were positioned to beat Kansas twice, and the Jayhawks wriggled away each time.
In Lawrence, on Jan. 9, McLemore banked home a three-pointer with one second left to tie the game and force overtime. KU went on to win 97-89.
In Ames on Feb. 25, Iowa State led by two when the game turned on a couple of controversial officiating calls in the final 23 seconds of regulation. An apparent fifth foul on KU's Jeff Withey was assessed instead to teammate Kevin Young. The 7-foot Withey stayed on the floor. Then, officials didn't whistle what appeared to be a charge by the Jayhawks' Elijah Johnson and wound up calling the Cyclones' Georges Niang for a foul in an ensuing scramble for the ball.
Johnson hit two free throws with 4.9 seconds left to tie, and KU pulled away in overtime to 108-96 win.
"I want some payback," Iowa State's Will Clyburn said Thursday, anticipating the semifinal opportunity. "They beat us twice … probably games we shouldn't have lost."
Kansas' Withey acknowledged, "There is a lot of controversy and stuff like that, and it will be a fun game. That's what I like.
"It'll be a good one."
Friday's tipoff vs. Iowa State is 6:30 CT.