Jayhawks clinch share of Big 12 with win over OU
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Sherron Collins didn’t expect the Big 12 championship trophy to be there, at least not until No. 1 Kansas clinched the title outright. He didn’t seek the hardware out, either, willing to let his teammates share in the glory.
Yet, once it was in Collins’ hands, the senior could feel the enormity of the moment, the emotion and pride of doing something no other player in Kansas’ storied history had ever done.
Checking off the first goal of his final season, Collins hoisted the trophy over his head as he walked off the court following an 81-68 win over Oklahoma on Monday night that gave the Jayhawks at least a share of their sixth straight Big 12 regular season title.
“It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Collins, who had 17 points and six assists. “It was kind of heavy, but it felt good to hoist it to the crowd.”
Kansas (27-1, 13-0) didn’t wait to clinch its latest title, sewing it up with three games left after doing it in the final week the past three seasons. The Jayhawks overwhelmed undermanned Oklahoma (13-14, 4-9) from the start, building a 17-point lead in the first half and shooting 51 percent overall to extend the Sooners’ Lawrence losing streak to 10 games.
Xavier Henry scored 18 of his 23 points in a dominating first half and Collins joined fellow senior Brady Morningstar for their 124th win together, most all-time in Kansas history. The Jayhawks have won 13 straight games for their best start since opening 34-1 in 1996-97 and have the nation’s longest home winning streak at 58 games.
“They’re a great basketball team,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. They have a chance to win the whole thing.”
The latest win over Oklahoma—now six straight overall—gives Kansas six consecutive conference titles for the first time since claiming the Missouri Valley crown from 1922-27, when Phog Allen was the coach and not the name on the gym. The Jayhawks have won more conference titles than any other Division I program, 53 in all, and 10 of the 14 Big 12 championships since the conference’s inception in 1996.
Next up could be a piece of history: win its final three games and Kansas can join the 2002 Jayhawks as the only team to go through the Big 12 undefeated.
“To be in the No. 1-rated RPI league and to clinch in game 13 out of 16, that’s a pretty special deal,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But clinching ain’t good enough. We’ve got to go take care of business.”
Oklahoma didn’t give the Jayhawks much of a fight early.
Playing without leading scorer Willie Warren (ankle, illness) for the fifth time in nine games, the Sooners missed their first 11 shots and didn’t score until Andrew Fitzgerald hit a jumper from the free-throw line 6:34 in to trail 11-2. Oklahoma made a brief run late in the half and twice pulled within 12 in the second half, but just didn’t have enough to make up for the early woes.
Tommy Mason-Griffin led the Sooners with 17 points and Fitzgerald had 16.
“The whole game I thought we did a good job of executing on offense,” said Oklahoma’s Cade Davis, who had 13 points. “We were getting shots, getting good looks. By the second half, we started knocking down shots and playing well. We gave them a little scare, but they’re a good team.”
Henry led the way against the Sooners.
The smooth-shooting lefty played like one of the top recruits in the country early in the season, setting a Kansas freshman debut record with 33 points and averaging a team-leading 17.2 points over the first 11 games. He then went into a funk, his scoring average dropping nearly eight points over the next 12 games, including a five-game stretch where he failed to reach double figures.
Henry returned to form against Iowa State two weeks ago, scoring 16 points, and followed that up with a 24-point effort against Colorado on Saturday.
His confidence clearly back, Henry was unstoppable in the first half against the Sooners, hitting 3-pointers, posting up, powering in the lane for three-point plays. He opened with a hard-driving and-one and didn’t hesitate to pull the string on jumpers, hitting all seven of his first-half shots.
Henry finished 9 of 13 from the field.
“He’s become more of a complete player,” Self said. “He’s probably not worrying about making shots as much as when he was going through a little funk, but everybody goes through slumps. Over the last five games, he’s been as good a player as we’ve had.”