LAWRENCE, Kansas -- You didn’t think Kansas was going to go down quietly now, did you?
The eighth-ranked Jayhawks issued perhaps their loudest statement of the season on Monday night, with a 104-74 rout of reeling Oklahoma. They harassed star freshman Trae Young into 3-of-13 shooting and a career-low 11 points at Allen Fieldhouse.
The win came just in time to answer questions about the legitimacy of KU's bid to win a 14th consecutive Big 12 title. Kansas sits alone atop the conference standings -- albeit perhaps temporarily -- at 11-4 after its first home win in league play by more than eight points.
“We needed a game where we could not sweat to the very end,” coach Bill Self said.
Sweat they did not. KU led by 16 before Young, who leads the nation in scoring and assists, sank a field goal. The Jayhawks swatted his attempts near the rim and denied Young an opportunity to launch from 3-point range. He finished 1-for-5 beyond the arc.
On this night, it was Kansas senior Devonte’ Graham, the preseason Big 12 player of the year, who looked like the best player in the league -- not the 19-year-old out of Norman North High School. Graham had a game-high 23 points and added seven assists.
“They do a good job,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “They’ve got good athletes.”
A lack of athletes hasn’t been the problem for Kansas. In the wake of 13 straight league titles, few expected that KU would enter its final two home games of league play with losses in Lawrence to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State and wins by eight, seven, five, three and one point in its other Big 12 games at the Phog.
Consistent play over 40 minutes had been difficult to find. So much for that -- for one night, at least. And yes, the confidence gained from Monday is good, Self said. “It’s got to help.”
None of the Jayhawks’ 16 successful 3-pointers (on 29 attempts) will mean much of anything, though, when KU visits the seventh-ranked Red Raiders on Saturday.
While Graham and backcourt mate Malik Newman teamed for 43 points, the Jayhawks got a lift from freshman forward Silvio De Sousa. He scored a career-best 10 points in 13 minutes and slammed an above-the-rim pass from Svi Mykhaulik as a second-half KU flurry pushed the lead to 20, bringing the noise to a crescendo in the famed building.
Kansas, in fact, played well over its last 47 minutes at home, Self said, maybe turning a corner from the mishmash that has characterized much of its season. The 77-69 win over West Virginia on Saturday drew notice because of the Jayhawks’ 35-2 edge in free throws.
It could represent something bigger. Self sees something more to the Monday night progress.
“We’re a better basketball team than we were three weeks ago,” Self said. “I do believe that. And certainly we’re going to have to be really good on Saturday to go down and win a huge game.”
Tech’s 85-73 victory over Kansas came three weeks before the Jayhawks lost at Oklahoma last month.
“The only thing on our mind,” KU guard Malik Newman said Monday, “was getting payback.”
Self shrugged at the notion.
“Guys say a lot of things sometimes,” he said, “that may fit the storyline after it’s already written.”
Regardless, it seems that we know what the Jayhawks will be thinking about for the rest of the week. Tech visits Oklahoma State on Wednesday. Win or lose, first place in the Big 12 will be at stake on Saturday.
The stakes are “pretty darn important” to the Jayhawks, Self said. They’re important enough that Kansas isn’t eyeing anything beyond the next game.
“No, no, no, we don’t care about two weeks from now,” Self said. “We care about Saturday.”
Kansas hosts Texas next Monday and closes at Oklahoma State. But if the Jayhawks win Saturday, two weeks from now might take care of itself.