Kansas tops Texas Tech for record 14th straight league title
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Devonte Graham barged through a door with a big smile, wearing a hat tilted slightly forward over his eyes that read “14 straight.”
Kansas finally has its NCAA record.
Graham scored 26 points and the eighth-ranked Jayhawks wrapped up their 14th consecutive regular-season conference championship, clinching at least a tie for the Big 12 title with a 74-72 victory against sixth-ranked Texas Tech on Saturday.
“It’s just being a part of history and me and my boy are part of it,” Graham said as he turned toward fellow senior Svi Mykhailiuk, who scored 21.
Graham hit a tiebreaking jumper with 1:30 remaining to help Kansas (23-6, 12-4) to its fourth straight win and a two-game lead over the Red Raiders, who have lost three in a row for the first time this season. The Jayhawks never trailed.
All 14 of the titles have come under coach Bill Self, who finished second in his first season at KU. Four of the previous 13 championships were shared. UCLA won 13 straight Pac-10 titles from 1967-79.
“We picked the best time to be our best the last couple of weeks,” Self said. “To play with little depth and to play so small and to not be a physical team at all, to see how these guys hung in there and competed, I’m amazed.”
The current skid for the Red Raiders (22-7, 10-6) started when leading scorer Keenan Evans injured a toe in the first half of a loss to Baylor that pulled Kansas even in the Big 12 race. The senior guard scored six points in his third straight game in single digits since the injury.
Zhaire Smith scored 20 points and fellow freshman Jarrett Culver had 18 for Texas Tech, which dropped its second straight game since reaching the highest ranking in school history. The Red Raiders surpassed last week’s No. 7 ranking that matched the 1995-96 team.
“You’ve got to credit the opponent,” coach Chris Beard said. “It’s why their players, a lot of them, go to the NBA. It’s why they win our conference almost every year, or every year, not almost. We were part of the fight. And we intend to be part of the fight as we build the program.”
The Jayhawks scored the first eight points and led by eight with less than 5 minutes remaining after Graham hit a long 3 with the shot clock about to expire. But just like the rest of the season in the rugged Big 12, it wasn’t easy.
Smith had a putback dunk to pull Texas Tech even at 68-68 before Graham hit the go-ahead jumper and got an off-balance shot to fall while the Red Raiders committed turnovers on consecutive possessions.
After a throw-in to run off the final 2 seconds, the Jayhawks stormed the court to the cheers of scattered fans in blue in what had been a raucous arena. Texas Tech students camped overnight for a national TV event the morning of the game.
“I feel like this year was the year that everybody thought we were going to lose it,” Graham said. “As a team, we’ve just been battling, staying positive with each other, going through the grind. And now we made history.”
Kansas: Mykhailiuk and Graham formed a pretty good first half-second half tag team. The Ukrainian guard had a team-leading 15 points and three assists before halftime, and Graham had 18 points in the second half.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are trying to get as much out of Evans as possible, subbing him frequently to rest the injured toe. But his impact clearly isn’t the same, and whether the toe improves is likely to determine how far Tech goes in the NCAA Tournament.
TOP 10 WINS
Kansas is 3-0 against top-10 teams this season and has won eight straight true road games against top-10 opponents. The last loss was to No. 4 Missouri on Feb. 2, 2012.
SMITH IN, GRAY OUT
Texas Tech senior Zach Smith entered in the first minute after missing 13 games with a broken foot. He replaced Justin Gray, who was flattened when he didn’t see a screen by 7-foot, 280-pound Udoka Azubuike. Gray stayed down for a couple of minutes before walking slowly to the bench. Gray didn’t return, and Smith finished with one point and four rebounds in 22 minutes.
Kansas: Home against Texas on Monday before regular-season finale at Oklahoma State next Saturday.
Texas Tech: At No. 21 West Virginia on Monday before finishing the regular season at home against TCU next Saturday. The Red Raiders and Mountaineers are tied for second in the Big 12.