Lawrence, KS – Attempting to keep pace atop the Big 12 Conference standings, the Kansas Jayhawks welcome the Texas Tech Red Raiders to Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night.
Texas Tech was spiraling out of control with nine consecutive losses heading into its latest matchup, but it got healthy on Saturday afternoon in a date with last-place TCU, winning 72-63 at home. The Red Raiders are still in the midst of a disappointing season at 10-17 overall and 3-13 in the Big 12.
Since slipping up with a rare three-game losing streak at the beginning of February, Kansas has returned to form in recent weeks with six straight wins, most recently dismissing West Virginia on Saturday, 91-65. The victory improved the Jayhawks to 25-4 overall, and at 13-3 in league play, it is neck- and-neck with Kansas State for first place in the standings.
Kansas has won six straight meetings with Texas Tech, most recently claiming a 60-46 decision in Lubbock on Jan. 12 to extend its lead in the all-time series to 23-4.
Although the nine-point win over TCU didn't exactly demonstrate dominance for the Red Raiders, they stepped up and played outstanding basketball at both ends of the floor, shooting a lofty 62.2 percent from the field while holding the Horned Frogs to less than 40 percent. Jordan Tolbert was nearly perfect from the field (9-of-10) for a game-high 22 points, Dejan Kravic logged a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Josh Gray added 11 points, six assists and three steals.
Texas Tech ranks in the lower-half of the Big 12 in offensive production with 66.0 ppg on 42.5 percent field goal efficiency, but the biggest reason for its woes has been its porous defense, which allows a league-worst 72.1 ppg. The squad's strength is in the paint, as forwards Jaye Crockett (12.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg), Tolbert (9.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Kravic (8.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg) are all shooting greater than 50 percent from the floor. Gray is the top threat out on the perimeter with 9.7 ppg, 3.3 apg and 2.1 spg, although his field goal percentage isn't nearly as strong as his taller teammates' (.372).
The Jayhawks experienced a scare early in their latest game, as they trailed WVU by seven points less than eight minutes in, but they closed out the first half on fire to go into intermission up by 14. The result was never in doubt from there. Ben McLemore was sensational for KU, shooting 12-of-15 from the field, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range, in netting a freshman school- record 36 points. Not to be outdone was Jeff Withey, who narrowly missed a triple-double 14 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks. Elijah Johnson was also impressive, scoring 12 points and handing out 10 assists.
Kansas is the only team in the Big 12 to rank in the top-three in both scoring offense (75.1 ppg) and scoring defense (61.3 ppg), which results in a league- best scoring margin of +13.8. McLemore (16.6 ppg) is one of the nation's deadliest shooters, whether it be from the field overall (.508), 3-point range (.442) or the foul line (.872). He is far from a one-trick pony however, adding 5.4 rpg, 2.1 apg and 1.2 spg to his impressive stat line. Withey patrols the paint with 13.6 ppg and 8.6 rpg, and he's an elite interior defender with four blocks per contest. Travis Releford nets 12.2 ppg on nearly 60 percent field goal shooting, and Johnson (10.3 ppg) gets his teammates involved with 4.7 apg.