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March 10, 2007

KU headed back to Championship Game

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The second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks will get the opportunity to defend their Big 12 postseason Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon. In defeating the Kansas State Wildcats in the first semifinal game on Saturday, Bill Self and the Jayhawks will face the Texas Longhorns on Sunday afternoon Oklahoma State. KU heads into Sundays final having won 10 straight games.

"Well, I thought it was a hard-fought, grind-it-out game," said Self. "I thought K-State was great early. I thought we were great late in the first half. In the second half we struggled finding some rhythm offensively but they did a good job of attacking the glass and coming back on us.

"It was the type of game that you need to play and it was good for us to play another game like this and win it because it was a grind-it-out, possession-type game late," he added.

Kansas State stormed out to an early lead in the first few minutes of the game and, at the time, appeared to be in complete control of the contest. Cartier Martin and Lance Harris each hit a pair of 3-pointers early as the Wildcats opened a 16-9 lead in the first 6 minutes.

However, the Jayhawks had numerous opportunities to score on their next possession before Sherron Collins finally knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing to start a 19-6. Sophomore Mario Chalmers scored six straight points for Kansas, as did fellow sophomore Julian Wright, beginning with a two-handed alley-oop dunk from Russell Robinson and ending with a floater in the lane that made it 28-22 Kansas.

The Jayhawks had the opportunity to lead by double-digits at halftime, but a costly turnover followed by Akeem Wright's fast-break dunk just before the halftime buzzer cut it to 35-28.

Kansas had the chance on a number of occasions to deliver the knockout blow in the second half, but Kansas State made a game of it until the very end. The Jayhawks have struggled recently at the free-throw line, but as a team, connected on 16-of-22 free-throws on Saturday afternoon.

Had it not been for the Jayhawks ability to hit free-throws down the stretch and in key situations, the outcome of today's game might have been different. However, the Hawks extended their winning streak to 10 games and will play for another Big 12 Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon.

"You know, today had a different feel to it to me," said Self. "Today was -- it wasn't as much as a rivalry game as it was a game where two teams had goals and they are trying to reach them. I mean it wasn't a hatred-type game today. And like Mario said, large part, it is at a neutral site. There is not as much energy in the building. But I think our guys, they weren't ecstatic after the game.

"They were very businesslike," he added. "We came down here with the idea that we have a chance to win another championship. And I think their focus is that. I don't think we are too hung up or too excited about what took place. I think we are excited about what hopefully can take place tomorrow if we really play well."

In all, three players, Chalmers (16), Wright (12) and Collins (10) scored in double-figures for Kansas. Brandon Rush finished with eight-points, Robinson with five-points, Darnell Jackson chipped in with five-points, Darrell Arthur finished with eight-points and Sasha Kaun was credited with three-points.

As a team, Kansas connected on 48 percent of its field goals, 33 percent of its shots from behind the arc and 73 percent of its free-throw attempts. Additionally, the Jayhawks out rebounded the Wildcats, 34-31, dished out 15 assists to 15 turnovers , swatted four shots and had eight steals.

Defensively, Self's squad was simply outstanding. Kansas State shot 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc. Despite winning the battle on the boards, Self wasn't happy with his teams overall rebounding performance.

"They killed us. Well, I don't know. We were 21-8 at half time," said Self. "I told our guys we are doing a decent job on the glass, thinking if we rebound the ball like this, we will be in great shape. Second half, I really don't know. I don't know if -- it seemed like to me they were getting every loose ball for a five- or seven-minute stretch.

"So much rebounding is not blocking out, it's chasing down loose balls and just being active," he added. "I just thought they were more active the second half. We got to rebound better. We were tied with Oklahoma yesterday, and we were only plus three today and we should be a better rebounding team than that."

The Kansas Jayhawks and Texas Longhorns will meet for the Big 12 Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon. In the eyes of many, Kansas might have assured themselves of a top seed in the NCAA Tournament by defeating Kansas State.

However, that's not something Wright, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward from Chicago-Height, Ill., is worried about at this time. As it stands right now, he's more focused on taking care of business on Sunday.

"I don't know (If we're a No. 1 seed right now)," said Wright. "We are just trying to take it a game at a time. We are focused on tomorrow's game and we let the seeding take care of itself."

Kansas is an extremely athletic team, but they didn't have many highlight reel type plays today. The Jayhawks were forced to play a grind-it-out style of basketball for much of the game.

KU averages 78.5 points per game, but scored just 64-points and 67-points against Oklahoma and Kansas State. With the NCAA Tournament set to begin next week, Self feels that his team has the ability to be successful no matter the style of play.

The Jayhawks can play an up-tempo style of basketball or they can slow it down or grind it out. Because the Hawks are so athletic, talented and deep, they have the ability to flat-out win in a variety of ways.

That was clearly evident against Oklahoma and Kansas State.

"I thought the game was really only really well played for stretches in the first half," he said. "There were a lot of stoppages in play today. Not saying good. Not saying bad. There were just stoppages in play that neither team got rhythm offensively. But I do think this, we know we can play when we're able to do this.

"For us to not get a lot of easy baskets and have to grind it out, even though it wasn't artistic, it was good for us to play in this game," he added. "I think we're becoming a team that can play whatever the game is. Now, they may play a funky zone or they may do something that hurts us, but I don't think it will be because we don't have guys that can grind it out or have guys that can get up and down."


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