No. 7 Kansas 72, Kansas St. 65
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—No. 7 Kansas celebrated the 50th anniversary of Allen Fieldhouse and bid an emotional farewell to its four seniors Wednesday night in just the fashion coach Bill Self expected.
“We didn’t play great. I really didn’t think we would, to be honest with you,” the second-year Jayhawks coach said. “I thought we would be a little tight. There were a lot of distractions.”
Nevertheless amid all the emotional hoopla, Wayne Simien had 25 points and a career-high 20 rebounds in a 72-65 victory over Kansas State that clinched at least a tie for the senior class’ third Big 12 championship in four years.
The four seniors—Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee—all made emotional speeches to the capacity crowd after the game and Simien even wiped tears from his eyes during pregame introductions.
The players wore throwback uniforms and cheerleaders wore outfits from the 1950s in recognition of the birthday of their beloved building, which opened on March 1, 1955, with a 77-66 victory over Kansas State.
The Jayhawks (22-4, 12-3) marked the festive occasion with their 30th straight win over the Wildcats (15-11, 5-10).
“I knew it would be a grind-it-out game,” Self said. “All our seniors played well. But you’re not going to look very good if you don’t shoot well and we only shot 43 percent.”
It was the 36th career double-double for Simien, who warned the crowd when he began his speech to “Get comfortable,” and then spoke for 25 minutes.
“… I’ve been waiting for this all my life. I’ve been crying all day like a big baby,” said the native of Leavenworth, Kan.
Despite all the emotion, Kansas State managed to stay close most of the game with the sort of tight zone defense that has troubled Kansas all season.
“Simien made some big plays,” said Wildcats coach Jim Wooldridge, who dropped to 0-11 against Kansas. “He is a great player. We have to answer him with big plays. You can’t make any mistakes.”
The 6-foot-9 Simien, who had a career-best 32 points in his previous game, a win over No. 8 Oklahoma State, was 10-of-11 from the foul line one game after setting the school record by making 24 consecutive free throws.
“I knew they would play zone all night,” Self said. “But for the most part, our guys did a good job.”
Simien is the leader of the seniors who have won three conference championships and gone to two Final Fours while recording a 109-25 record. In Allen Fieldhouse, they were 55-3.
Kansas’ all-time record in the limestone building is 566-102.
Instead of their usual snug, skimpy outfits, cheerleaders wore bobby sox and long, loose-fitting white skirts and danced to “Rock Around the Clock” and other ’50s hits. One big sign in the student section said, “Heaven is 50 years old.”
Langford and Miles, the Big 12’s career assists leader, each had 12 points while Lee had nine. Helping the Jayhawks finally beat the zone was slump-ridden sophomore J.R. Giddens, who hit two 3-pointers and scored eight points.
His first 3-pointer barely hit the backboard.
“I was very proud of J.R. tonight,” Self said. “After that first one, he came back and made two in a row. That took a lot of courage.”
Cartier Martin had 17 points and Jeremiah Massey added 16 for Kansas State.
“The first half we played pretty bad,” Massey said. “We just let those guys jump on us. It was a lot of frustration. I missed a lot of easy shots.”
Unable to get their offense going against Kansas State’s zone, the Jayhawks went almost 4 minutes in the first half without scoring.
“I know by the time the game started that I was tired,” Lee said. “I was worn out just thinking about the game.”
After another Kansas miss that made the Jayhawks 3-for-15 from the field, Justin Williams hit a short jumper to bring the Wildcats within 22-20.
But then Simien muscled inside for a stick-back and a few minutes later Lee’s 3-pointer made it 32-24.