The fifth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks invade the Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday seeking answers, as they take on the Oklahoma Sooners in Big 12 action.
After going through November, December and January with a single loss on their record, Bills Self's Jayhawks have dropped two games in the month of February already, with back-to-back setbacks against Oklahoma State (85-80) and most recently, TCU (62-55). The loss to the Horned Frogs was particularly troubling considering that TCU had lost eight straight games and was winless in league play up to that point. With the losses, Kansas no longer sits atop the conference standings alone, but rather tied now with Kansas State at 7-2.
Lon Kruger's Sooners also enter this game with a two-game skid in tow, having lost a nail-biter to Kansas State at home (52-50), followed by a blowout at Iowa State on Monday (83-64). Now at 14-7 overall and 5-4 in the Big 12, Oklahoma looks to make a move up the standings, playing five of its last nine games in Norman, where the team is 7-2 this year.
In a series that began in 1920, Kansas holds a 139-64 advantage. The Jayhawks have won 10 straight meetings dating back to 2006 and have won four straight at the Lloyd Noble Center. Kansas is seeking the regular-season sweep after recording a 67-54 decision in Lawrence on Jan. 26.
To say that Kansas got off to a slow start against TCU would be putting it mildly. The Jayhawks only converted three field goals in the entire first half sending KU to its first back-to-back losses since 2005-06. Freshman Ben McLemore led the team with a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds. Senior Jeff Withey had 12 points, eight boards and three blocks, while sophomore Naadir Tharpe chipped in with 11 points off the bench.
A usually efficient offensive squad, Kansas has lost its way over the last two games. Despite the poor performances, the team is still shooting .469 from the floor and putting up 73.4 ppg. The defensive effort remains strong, with Kansas yielding just 60.0 ppg and ranking first in the nation in field-goal percentage defense (.356). The team still possesses a +6.0 rebounding margin and is averaging 7.3 blocks per game. McLemore has made an immediate impact in his first season on the floor, shooting .500 overall, including .426 from behind the arc, while pacing the team with 16.3 ppg. Withey has been a force in the middle, as the 7-footer is netting 13.0 ppg, grabbing 8.3 rpg and blocking 4.2 shots per game. Travis Releford rounds out the top scoring threats for Kansas with 12.1 ppg.
The Sooners have not been as efficient at the offensive end of the floor this season, but still maintain a positive scoring margin thanks to sturdy defensive play. Oklahoma is yielding just 63.5 ppg on the year, holding foes to just over 40 percent shooting (.408). Senior forward Romero Osby has been the leader for OU both in the scoring column (13.8 ppg) and on the glass (6.5 rpg). Senior guard Steven Pledger (10.7 ppg) provides a perimeter threat, while junior forward Amath M'Baye (10.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) adds depth up front.
The Sooners were no match for Iowa State's offensive firepower, as the Cyclones shot 50.9 percent from the floor in the 19-point win in Ames. Meanwhile, Oklahoma struggled, shooting a mere .366 from the floor overall, a number weighed down by an ugly 3-of-16 performance from long distance. No one in the starting five reached double-digit points in the loss. Andrew Fitzgerald led the way off the bench with 12 points. Isaiah Cousins and Cameron Clark followed with 10 points apiece.