No. 9 Kansas eases by K-State, 83-67, in Big 12 semifinal
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas absorbed the biggest blows that short-handed Kansas State could land, played without its star big man for the second straight game and won its Big 12 Tournament semifinal comfortably.
You’d think that would be enough to make coach Bill Self happy.
“I thought they played better than us,” he insisted after an 83-67 victory Friday night, “but I thought a lot of it was self-inflected. We couldn’t guard them and offensively we weren’t very smart.
“If I sleep two hours tonight,” Self added, “it’ll be more than I probably think I should.”
So much for feel-good feelings.
Malik Newman poured in 22 points, Devonte Graham added 15 points and Svi Mykhailiuk had 12 for the top-seeded Jayhawks (26-7), who nevertheless cruised into a title matchup with No. 18 West Virginia — which beat No. 14 Texas Tech in the other semifinal — on Saturday night at the Sprint Center.
It was the Jayhawks’ eighth straight win over Kansas State (23-10), and they remained perfect in 10 games against their cross-state rival in the Big 12 Tournament.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats learned Friday morning they’d be without All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, who hurt his foot in their quarterfinal win over TCU. Then they lost starting guard Barry Brown early against the Jayhawks when he was accidentally poked in the eye.
“You can’t prepare for Barry going down the first play,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said. “He had very little vision. He wanted to play. He kept saying, ‘Put me in.’ But I held up fingers and asked him how many and he couldn’t say.”
Unheralded forward Mawien stepped up with a career-high 29 points, and Xavier Sneed scored 12 despite another poor shooting night, but the duo couldn’t make up for two major absences.
Brown’s injury came 90 seconds into the game, when he drove the lane and Graham accidentally got him in the left eye. He flopped to the floor in pain — “It was a little gross when I looked at it,” Weber said — and was checked for several minutes before going to the locker room.
Even when he returned to the bench, Brown was never looked like he was going to play. There was some bleeding in his eye and he spent the rest of the game holding an ice pack on it.
“It’s very tough when one of your main contributors goes down with an injury,” Mawien said. “We just had to step up and play hard.”
Kansas took advantage of the absences by ripping off a 19-4 run midway through the first half that gave the Jayhawks control. They eventually pushed the advantage to 43-30 by the break.
Mawien and the Wildcats made the Jayhawks work for it in the second half, though. The junior college transfer dominated in the paint, especially when Kansas big man Mitch Lightfoot picked up his fourth foul with 11:38 to go, and Kansas State clawed to within 53-51 with 10 minutes left.
“There was absolutely no resistant guarding Mawien,” Self said, “and I hope I’m pronouncing it correctly, because he was by far the best player in the game. He whipped us.”
It was Newman that restored order. The transfer from Mississippi State followed his career-best 30-point effort in a quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State with another virtuoso performance.
He drained a 3-pointer to make it 60-53 with 8½ minutes left, then hit his fifth of the game a few minutes later. And by the time Lagerald Vick curled in back-to-back baskets, the lead had swelled to 71-59 and the Jayhawks were on their way toward the title game.
“I mean, we know that basketball is a game of runs. Those guys did a good job of going on their run,” Newman said, “but we were able to withstand the storm. We had confidence in one another that we were going to make stops and make plays.”
Weber held out hope Wade could return for the title game if Kansas State won, and he is optimistic about his availability for next week’s NCAA Tournament. “Going forward into next week,” Weber said, “we have every indication he will be able to play.”
Kansas State almost certainly locked up its NCAA Tournament bid with its win over TCU, but the fight the Wildcats showed against Kansas — down their two best players — may have helped their cause.
Kansas has played well using a four-guard lineup while Azubuike deals with a sprained ligament in his left knee. That should give the Jayhawks confidence if he misses any NCAA Tournament games.
Kansas State returns to Manhattan to await its NCAA Tournament fate.
Kansas turns its attention toward winning its 15th conference tournament title.