Regular-season co-champs Kansas, K-State to meet for Big 12 tournament championship
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kansas and Kansas State won't be able to share this championship.
The longtime rivals, separated by about 80 miles of interstate, finished the regular-season tied atop the Big 12 standings. But they'll get to settle their differences Saturday night when the seventh-ranked Jayhawks and No. 11 Wildcats meet for their conference tournament title.
"We were conference co-champs," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said, "and now we get a chance to play the team that tied us in a big game for the whole tournament."
Some of the Jayhawks would argue there's hardly a score to settle.
The nine-time defending conference champions won both of their matchups this season, the first a 59-55 nail-biter in Manhattan and the second an 83-62 rout at Allen Fieldhouse. But the Jayhawks also squandered a chance last Saturday to win the regular-season title outright.
Kansas State lost to Oklahoma State earlier in the day, but the Jayhawks put together one of their worst performances of the season in a loss to Baylor that left the two schools tied.
"We shared the regular season and you can't share the tournament, so this is for all the marbles," said Rodney McGruder, who scored 25 points in a 68-57 payback win over the Cowboys that allowed Kansas State to advance to the championship game.
"It would mean a lot," added the Wildcats' Angel Rodriguez, who scored 17 against the Cowboys. "Whatever happened in the regular season, people can say whatever they want. They never want to give us credit, but we won a championship. KU should have taken care of business."
Even the Jayhawks would agree with that statement.
They're certainly taking care of business in the Big 12 tournament, though, rolling roughshod over Texas Tech in the quarterfinals and then beating Iowa State 88-73 on Friday night.
Perry Ellis scored a career-high 23 points, Jeff Withey and Elijah Johnson added 14 points each, and Ben McLemore finished with 10 as the Jayhawks (28-5) beat the Cyclones (22-11) for the 16th time in their last 17 meetings — and without the need of overtime, either.
Kansas needed extra time to beat Iowa State in both of the regular-season meetings.
"We're on a roll right now," Withey said. "We know it's the end of the year and we have to play great. We're trying to win a national championship, so we've got to play games like this."
Their semifinal against Iowa State was highlighted by a combustible coach Bill Self, who took umbrage with the officiating crew after a technical foul was called on McLemore for taunting.
Self spent nearly five minutes barking at the officials, and at one point had to be held back by assistant coach Joe Dooley, before he finally earned a technical foul of his own.
"I could have gotten one 10 minutes earlier," said Self, who gave the impression he earned the technical foul on purpose to fire up his team. "They told me they were going to give me one, and I'm not a real good listener."
Asked whether Ellis had ever seen his coach more upset, the freshman replied: "I haven't, actually. That was probably the angriest I've seen him."
Georges Niang scored 19 points and Melvin Ejim had 17 for the fifth-seeded Cyclones, who are almost certainly secure of their place in the NCAA tournament.
"The last week-and-a-half, I'm happy with where we are," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We're excited to be moving on and playing meaningful games this time of year."
The Cowboys (24-8) are also firmly in the NCAA tournament after finishing a game back of the Jayhawks and Wildcats in the league race, and beating Baylor in the tournament quarterfinals.
That tough game against the Bears may have cost them on Friday night, though.
"We watched, at least the coaches in person, the second half last night, and really felt they were getting tired, even in the Baylor game. It's a hard turnaround," Weber said. "They were tired, and I think our guys noticed it."
Kansas State, which hadn't won a regular-season conference title since 1977, held a 28-23 halftime lead, and then McGruder launched the second half with a dunk, a coast-to-coast layup, a jumper and a three-point play that put the Wildcats on top 37-25.
With the Cowboys' legs going away, the Wildcats (27-6) turned up the intensity.
"We saw they were tired," Rodriguez said. "The beauty of our team is we're deep, and a lot of people can play for us, and help us, and that's what we did. We rotated a lot and we got into transition, and pretty much every time we did, something positive happened to us."
Kansas State coasted down the stretch to reach the Big 12 tournament title game for only the second time, and move within one win of its first league tournament title since 1980.
All that's standing in the way is mighty Kansas.
"I don't think it matters if they beat us twice, because every team they lost to we beat, so it really doesn't matter," the Wildcats' Shane Southwell said. "We end up tying them and we were able to share. This is going to be a big game, and this is really for who is best in the Big 12."