Despite starting alongside four seniors who reached the national championship game last season, Ben McLemore is becoming Kansas' biggest star.
The redshirt freshman and the sixth-ranked Jayhawks return from a week off following their most impressive victory to host American University on Saturday night.
With Kansas' only trip outside Lawrence or Kansas City through 10 games being a loss to Michigan State in Atlanta, McLemore had never played a true road game going into last Saturday's visit to then-No. 7 Ohio State. The unfriendly crowd in Columbus clearly didn't faze the St. Louis native as he scored a game-high 22 points in a 74-66 victory.
"I kept my intensity, I just played my game," McLemore said.
The Jayhawks (10-1) led 56-52 with less than seven minutes remaining when McLemore scored six straight points to put his team in control.
"Ben McLemore is as good as any player in the country," said Buckeyes coach Thad Matta, who also referenced the four senior starters giving Kansas great leadership.
That quartet of veterans - Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson - helped the Jayhawks to the national title game in April before losing 67-59 to Kentucky. McLemore never played a minute for that team, having to sit out the season after being ruled only a partial qualifier by the NCAA, but he could be turning into this season's go-to player.
He's averaging 19.6 points over the past five games while going 14 of 24 from 3-point range and 18 of 20 at the free-throw line. The 6-foot-5 McLemore, averaging 5.7 rebounds, ranks among the Big 12 leaders with 16.5 points per game and 86.0 percent free-throw shooting.
"There's a lot of stuff I'm curious about Ben," coach Bill Self said. "He's still trying to figure out how to play. You can tell in late-game situations, he's played less basketball than anybody that's as old as him and as good as him around. It's all new to him. When it all comes naturally to him, he's going to become terrific."
McLemore's other three 20-point games all came at Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks are 7-0 this season and have won 28 straight for the nation's second-longest home winning streak behind Syracuse (30).
This is the Jayhawks' only game in a two-week span. Their next one comes Jan. 6 against Temple, which recently handed the then-No. 3 Orange their first loss.
"We have a good group of vets and we've been in tough situations before," said Withey, who has posted two straight double-doubles.
This game shouldn't be a tough one. American (4-8) has played 18 games against ranked teams over the past 15 years and lost by double digits every time.
The latest such setback came last Saturday, 65-48 to then-No. 15 Georgetown.
"The odds are against the little guy that's playing the guarantee (money) game," coach Jeff Jones said.
His Eagles shot 28.6 percent from the field en route to their third straight defeat. American has hit 35.9 percent over its past four games while the Jayhawks have shot 55.1 percent in their last five.
Eagles senior Stephen Lumpkins, who averages team highs of 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds, had posted three straight double-doubles before being limited to 10 points and four boards against the Hoyas.
The only time these teams met was Kansas' 90-69 victory Jan. 6, 1988, during its Danny Manning-led national championship season.