By Steve Wieberg
Top-seeded Kansas moved within one more win of its sixth Big 12 tournament championship in eight years, defeating Iowa State 88-73 behind 23 points by freshman Perry Ellis.
The 6-7 Ellis, a much-heralded recruit out of Wichita a year ago, hit 10 of 12 shots from the field, pulled down six rebounds and didn't have a turnover in 28 minutes off the KU bench. He came in averaging five points a game.
Iowa State, the nation's most prolific three-point shooting team, was just 9-for-33 behind the arc. The starting backcourt of Chris Babb, Will Clyburn and point guard Korie Lucious was a combined 4-for-16.
Iowa State had pointed to this game, tormented by two overtime losses to Kansas during the regular season that the Cyclones felt they could and should have won.
"It was important," KU coach Bill Self said, "that our guys played with unbelievable emotion in order to match their emotion."
Self, himself, did, drawing the second of two technical fouls called against the Jayhawks in the game's first 13 minutes (the initial call going against redshirt freshman Ben McLemore for taunting the Iowa State bench after a three-pointer). And his team was similarly amped.
Point guard Elijah Johnson had a miserable first half but gave Kansas its first comfortable lead in the opening 2½ minutes of the second half, scoring the Jayhawks' first seven points – amid that, getting a steal from Iowa State's Lucious. Johnson then assisted on a jumper by Jeff Withey that moved KU up 44-33.
Ellis largely took it from there. Stepping in for starter Kevin Young, who injured his right leg some 9½ minutes into the game, he hit the Cyclones with an array of moves and shots. Jumpers. Drives. Jump hooks. Slams.
"It was just my turn to go play," he said.
Said Self, "Our whole deal with him is 'be aggressive, be aggressive.' He's one of those kids that, as soon as you say 'run,' he'll run faster. As soon as you say 'jump,' he'll jump higher. So he's a quick-twitch kid. But you want him to be more aggressive all the time. And tonight, they played behind him on the post and he was able to get catches. And that's what he can do. I mean, he played great.
"The plays he made are plays that I think he can consistently make if he just stays aggressive and stays confident."
Fifth-seeded Iowa State, meanwhile, never found its shooting touch. Down 16, Lucious and Will Clyburn connected on treys during a 1½-minute spurt that cut the deficit to 59-49 with 9:22 left. But Ellis ended a five-shot Kansas possession with a slam, then scored on a jump hook, and McLemore knocked down a three-pointer that pushed the Jayhawks back up 66-51.
A night after shooting a Big 12 tournament-record 66% against Texas Tech, KU (28-5) shot a little better than 69% in the second half.
Iowa State's touted freshman, forward Georges Niang, also came up big, showing no fear of Kansas 7-footer Jeff Withey in scoring 19 points. Junior Melvin Ejim finished with 17. But there was too little help.
Still, it was a successful trip to Kansas City for the Cyclones (22-11). Uncertain about their NCAA tournament prospects as little as two weeks ago, they closed the regular season with victories over NCAA-bound Oklahoma State and West Virginia, the latter on the road, and stormed back to defeat Oklahoma in their Big 12 tournament opener Thursday.
"Our backs were against the wall last week. We felt we needed to get three more wins," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "And I give our guys a lot of credit for responding. … It's unfortunate we didn't win or get a chance to play for the championship right now. But overall the last week and half, I'm happy (with) where we are."
The Jayhawks meet second-seeded Kansas State or No. 3 Oklahoma State in Sunday's 5 p.m. CT championship game.