LAWRENCE, Kan. — Three regular-season games remain for Kansas, yet the Jayhawks already are Big 12 champions.
Fifth-ranked Kansas clinched at least a share of the conference title Monday, its 10th in a row, by holding off Oklahoma 83-75 in Allen Fieldhouse.
“Our guys have done great,” said Bill Self, who coached Kansas to each of those titles and is in his 11th season. “In a league this competitive and ranked by some to be the hardest in the country, to have a three-game lead with three left is special.”
Oklahoma did not make it easy. The Sooners kept the game tight throughout the second half after coming out of the break on a 9-2 run. A follow shot by freshman guard Andrew Wiggins with 8:43 left gave the Jayhawks a 60-59 advantage, and they maintained the lead the rest of the game.
The win was the fourth in a row and sixth in seven games for Kansas (22-6, 13-2 Big 12). Oklahoma (20-8, 9-6) could have claimed sole possession of second place with a win but instead fell to fourth, behind No. 15 Iowa State and No. 24 Texas. The Cyclones and Longhorns are both 9-5.
Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe paced the Jayhawks with 19 points, though each of the Kansas starters scored in double figures. Wiggins netted 15 points, as did freshman guard Wayne Selden. Freshman center Joel Embiid added a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while sophomore forward Perry Ellis added 11 points.
Tharpe, who also had a team-high five assists, converted a fast-break layup with 3:15 remaining, then added a pull-up jumper at the 2:20 mark and drove for another hoop with 56 seconds left. Wiggins nailed a 3-pointer with 2:43 remaining as the Jayhawks scored field goals on four straight trips to break away late.
Before dribbling out the clock on the last possession, Kansas scored on seven consecutive trips. Tharpe went 4-for-4 from the foul line for the final points.
“In the last 10 minutes of the game, that’s as good as Naadir has been at KU,” Self said.
Fitting, really. Tharpe is the most experienced player in the Kansas rotation, a veteran who enlightened several talented freshmen regarding the program’s rich tradition.
Coming out of each time out, Tharpe said, even during summer workouts, the Jayhawks chant, “Big 12 champs.” Yet in maintaining that streak, Tharpe denied that the massive assortment of Big 12 trophies, part of 57 conference titles the Jayhawks have earned overall, created any undue pressure.
“It shouldn’t be any pressure,” Tharpe said. “We’re playing basketball and having fun. Everything else should just take care of itself.”
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, who grew accustomed to the difficult atmosphere at Kansas as a three-time All-Big Eight pick for Kansas State, called the Jayhawks’ string of Big 12 titles phenomenal.
“Kansas is so tough here for a lot of reasons,” Kruger said. “Bill does a great job, they are very talented, the crowd is great and you’ve got to deal with the runs they make. … We gave them those moments … that you have to avoid.”
Senior guard Cameron Clark netted 18 points to pace the Sooners, who gave Kansas a scare after falling to the Jayhawks 90-83 on Jan. 8.
That game served as Kansas’ league opener. Since then, the Jayhawks mounted another run to a Big 12 title by winning all their conference home games. In addition, Monday’s win against Oklahoma was the Jayhawks’ 12th in the past 13 meetings.
There was no postgame celebration. The Jayhawks still want to win the crown outright, and they get their first crack Saturday at Oklahoma State, against a Cowboys team that was picked as the Big 12 co-favorite with Kansas in a preseason media poll. Kansas shared four of its previous Big 12 titles with league rivals, including last season with Kansas State.
“The players didn’t stay out (on the court) to celebrate, and I told our guys we will celebrate whenever we win it,” Self said. “Right now all we have done is tie, but it’s pretty good to be 13-2 in this league.”
NOTES: By guaranteeing at least a share of its 10th Big 12 championship, Kansas moved into third on the list of longest championship streaks. The longer runs
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