The fifth-seeded Iowa State Cyclones and the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will meet at the Sprint Center on Friday night in the semifinal round of the Big 12 Conference Tournament, with a trip to Saturday's championship game versus either Oklahoma State or Kansas State on the line.
Iowa State trailed its quarterfinal matchup against fourth-seeded Oklahoma late in the game, but staged a improbable rally to come away with the 73-66 win. The Cyclones have now won three in a row and six of their last eight to improve to 22-10, and they now appear to be safely in the field of 68 for next week's NCAA Tournament.
Save for a head-scratching three-game losing streak in early February, Kansas has been one of the nation's elite teams this season at 27-5 overall. The Jayhawks suffered a disappointing loss at Baylor to close out the regular season, 81-58, but they still finished the Big 12 campaign at 14-4, which was tied with Kansas State for first place, although it earned the No. 1 seed by virtue of the tiebreaker. The Jayhawks made easy work of Texas Tech in the quarterfinals, 91-63.
Kansas defeated Iowa State twice this season, but both matchups needed overtime to be decided. The Jayhawks have a firm handle on the storied all- time series versus the Cyclones, 173-59.
The Cyclones appeared to be on their way to an early exit in the tournament in Thursday's quarterfinals, as they trailed Oklahoma by 12 points with less than eight minutes to play, but they ripped off a 25-6 run to close out the game and capture the thrilling victory. They had a modest afternoon from the floor (.426), and they were flat out disappointing from 3-point range (7-of-26), but they were aided by a perfect night from the foul line (14-of-14) and dominating advantage on the glass (43-31). Melvin Ejim was a beast in the paint with 23 points and 12 rebounds, Will Clyburn added 17 points, Georges Niang and Chris Babb netted 10 points apiece, and Korie Lucious made up for an 0-of-8 day from the field by dishing out nine assists. Iowa State, which ranks fourth in the nation in scoring (79.8 ppg), does most of its damage from 3- point range, shooting 316-of-845 from beyond the arc (.374). Clyburn leads the way with 15.3 ppg, Ejim is a force in the trenches with 11.0 ppg and 9.4 rpg, and Lucious (10.1 ppg) gets others involved with 5.7 apg. Tyrus McGree (13.3 ppg), Niang (11.8 ppg) and Babb (9.3 ppg) rounds out one of the deepest squads in the nation.
The Jayhawks controlled their matchup with Texas Tech from the opening tip, shooting an incredible 66.0 percent from the floor while adding a 20-of-23 showing from the foul line. Ben McLemore was on point, draining 8-of-12 from the field for 24 points, while Rio Adam scored 11 points in just five minutes off the bench. Kansas is no stranger to impressive all-around performances, as it not only scores greater than 75 ppg on a lofty 47.8 percent from the field but it plays stellar defense as well, holding teams to just 35.9 percent shooting and 61.3 ppg. McLemore (16.9 ppg), a freshman, has proven himself to be one of the top shooters in the nation, piecing together great percentages from the field (.507), 3-point range (.437) and the foul line (.867). Jeff Withey (13.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg) is a tremendous interior defender, coming up with 4.0 bpg. Travis Releford brings 11.7 ppg on nearly 58 percent from the field to the mix, while Elijah Johnson chips in with 10.0 ppg and 4.8 apg.