Kansas finds itself in an unfamiliar position as the final week of the season approaches. It is trailing in the conference title race and looking to avenge a loss to Kansas State.
The chances of the sixth-ranked Jayhawks winning a fourth straight Big 12 regular-season title could all but end Saturday night unless they can avoid being swept by the Wildcats for the first time in 25 years.
Kansas (25-3, 10-3) is one game behind conference-leading Texas with three games to play. If they lose Saturday while the Longhorns win at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks would have to win their final two games and have Texas lose home games versus Nebraska and Oklahoma State just to share the Big 12 regular-season championship.
The Jayhawks opened the season with 20 straight victories, but Kansas State (18-9, 8-5) ended their run with an 84-75 upset victory on Jan. 30.
Star freshman Michael Beasley had guaranteed the Wildcats would end Kansas’ 24-game winning streak in Manhattan, and he helped fulfill his prediction by scoring a game-high 25 points and making all four of his 3-point attempts.
Kansas State, which is in third place in the Big 12 and two games behind the Jayhawks, has not swept the season series over its in-state rival since 1982-83.
“I think the motivation that they beat us the last time certainly adds to the anticipation of the game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The way I look at it, is you have a couple of teams that really feel like they need a win. Both teams should be anxious to play.”
The Jayhawks are coming off a 75-64 victory at Iowa State on Wednesday, bouncing back from consecutive road losses.
Kansas was 7-of-11 from 3-point range, led the Cyclones by as much as 22 points and played with more intensity compared to its subpar performances in losses at Texas and Oklahoma State.
“When you’re 24-3, you shouldn’t be able to say the ship needs righting. But our players all know that it did,” Self said. “We were a better team tonight than we were the last two to three weeks. Our guys had more energy and they seemed to be more focused and played with more of a purpose.”
Darrell Arthur had 18 points and 10 rebounds on Wednesday after scoring 14 points and grabbing eight boards in his previous two games combined. He had 12 points and seven boards against Kansas State last month.
Mario Chalmers had a team-high 19 points against the Wildcats earlier this season, and finished with 15 against Iowa State.
The Jayhawks are 18-0 at home, and have won 22 straight at Allen Fieldhouse since last season. They’ve won 12 of their last 13 home games over Kansas State.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, have been terrible on the road lately, and very little has gone right for them since beating the Jayhawks in January.
That victory capped a season-high six-game winning streak, as Kansas State has gone just 3-5 since, including losses in each of its last three games. The Wildcats also have lost four straight on the road, and this will be their first road game against a ranked opponent all season. A victory at then-No. 22 Texas last season snapped their 32-game road losing streak against Top 25 teams.
Kansas State lost to the fifth-ranked Longhorns 74-65 on Monday despite another strong performance from Beasley.
After scoring a Big 12-record 44 points in a 92-86 loss to Baylor last Saturday, the 6-foot-10 freshman finished with 30 points and 15 rebounds for his eighth straight double-double. Beasley, a candidate for national player of the year, is third in the nation in scoring (26.2 ppg) and first in rebounds (12.6 rpg).
“He’s got a special game,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “He’s got great hands, soft hands. I think he’s really a better shooter than people think he is, great around the rim.”
While Beasley has been playing at an incredible level lately, teammate Bill Walker is looking to bounce back from a rough outing.
After scoring 31 points against the Bears, Walker had one point and missed all 14 of his field goal attempts on Wednesday. Walker, who is second on the Wildcats in scoring at 16.2 points per game, had 22 against the Jayhawks in January.