It’s been a tumultuous season off the court for Kansas, which can count point guard Tyshawn Taylor’s team-imposed suspension as the latest in a long line of distractions.
Once the ball is tipped, however, things couldn’t be going much better.
The third-ranked Jayhawks have bounced back from a rare loss with two blowout victories, and they shouldn’t have trouble staying sharp Saturday in Norman looking to hand Oklahoma a seventh straight loss.
Heading into Monday’s game against Oklahoma State, Kansas (26-2, 11-2 Big 12) had seen its players miss 31 games because of injury, tragedy, misbehavior or NCAA edicts. It added another to that total with the suspension of Taylor for violating unspecified team rules, a ban that will continue Saturday versus the Sooners (12-15, 4-9).
Coach Bill Self elected to insert sophomore Elijah Johnson into the starting lineup, and he took full advantage of the opportunity against the Cowboys. Johnson had a career-high 15 points and Marcus Morris led the way with 27 as Kansas shot 54.4 percent in a 92-65 rout.
“I think I did well,” said Johnson, who totaled 15 points in his previous seven games. “Some stuff I can still improve on.”
The Jayhawks have made 21 of 45 3-pointers in consecutive routs of Colorado and Oklahoma State after hitting just 3 of 15 in a loss at Kansas State on Feb. 14. Johnson hit all four of his attempts Monday - not a bad performance considering many figured Self would let heralded freshman Josh Selby start.
“It was a good decision because I thought Elijah played great,” said Self, who confirmed that Johnson will start Saturday. “Hopefully, this will be a confidence boost for him.”
Kansas remains one game behind Texas in the Big 12 standings.
Johnson also had three assists, but with plenty of other ball handlers on the roster, the Jayhawks don’t need him to be a great distributor. Kansas leads the nation with 18.6 assists per game, and it’s 24-0 when recording 14 or more.
That’s largely a tribute to seniors Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar, who have provided helped the Jayhawks’ offense stay steady when Taylor has been careless with the basketball. Reed and Morningstar have 42 assists and just six turnovers over their past six games.
“They are a calming influence over our guys and have been our two most consistent perimeter players, especially since conference play started,” Self said.
Kansas leads the nation in field-goal percentage (52.1) - it’s shot at least 50 percent in its last nine wins - and that’s bad news for an Oklahoma team that hasn’t beaten the Jayhawks since a 71-63 win Feb. 21, 2005.
The Sooners’ February skid hit six Wednesday with a dreadful shooting performance at Texas A&M. Despite holding a one-point halftime lead, Oklahoma missed its first nine shots after the break while the Aggies went on an 11-0 run that provided the difference in a 61-47 victory.
The Sooners shot 33.3 percent overall, falling to 1-12 when they shoot below 45.0 percent. Their 66.0 points per game rank last in the Big 12.
“We were getting open looks, we just couldn’t knock them down,” senior guard Cade Davis said of the decisive stretch. “That got our heads down a little bit, got us a little frustrated and then we let it domino into playing bad defense.”
Kansas has held Oklahoma to 36.5 percent shooting during its six straight head-to-head victories.