Rapid Reaction: Kansas 67, Kansas State 49
January, 4, 2012
By Jason King | ESPN.com
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Here are some quick thoughts from Kansas' 67-49 victory over Kansas State on Wednesday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Overview: Travis Releford scored 16 points and snared 11 rebounds and Thomas Robinson added 15 and 14 to spark Kansas. Bill Self's squad opened the game on a 23-5 scoring run, only to see Kansas State battle back and make it a three-point game, 39-36, midway through the second half. Bolstered by a deafening home crowd, the Jayhawks responded with a 17-5 march to take a 54-41 lead. Kansas State, which got 15 points from Rodney McGruder, never threatened again. The Jayhawks' defense was outstanding, as Kansas held Kansas State to 31.6 percent shooting while outrebounding the Wildcats 50-26.
Kansas has now won its past six home games against Kansas State by an average of 18 points. Kansas improved to 11-3 with the victory. Kansas State fell to 11-2. It was the Big 12 opener for both teams.
Turning point: Kansas' much-maligned bench came up huge Wednesday when shooting guard Conner Teahan swished a clutch 3-pointer midway through the second half. Teahan's basket, which came from the left corner, occurred moments after Kansas State's Jamar Samuels had pulled the Wildcats within a possession, 39-36, on a 3-pointer with 12:28 remaining. Teahan's answer shot made it 42-36. The Wildcats responded with a floater from McGruder -- which Teahan countered with another 3-pointer to give the Jayhawks a 45-38 lead and momentum they would never relinquish.
Star of the game: Performances like Wednesday's have become the norm for Robinson, a junior forward. The real difference-maker, though, was Releford. The junior small forward's personal-best 10 rebounds included six on the offensive end. Kansas is a top-10-caliber team when Releford plays like he did against Kansas State.
What the win means for Kansas: This is far from Self's best Kansas team. But anyone who thinks this is a bad basketball squad needs to get a grip on reality. Robinson is a leading candidate for national player of the year, 7-foot center Jeff Withey (eight points, nine rebounds, six blocks) is emerging as a defensive force in the paint and Releford picked the perfect time to play the best game of his career. The Jayhawks have major issues when it comes to turnovers -- Tyshawn Taylor committed eight of them Wednesday -- and there isn't any reliable depth beyond Teahan. But Kansas, as it always does, will improve dramatically and be in the mix for an eighth consecutive conference title two months from now. Also, as excited as Kansas fans might be about Wednesday's victory, it's important to remember that it came at home. Winning on the road -- especially in Manhattan, Kan., and Columbia, Mo. -- is a much tougher task, although Kansas usually does it better than anyone in the league. Kansas is 33-7 in Big 12 road games over the past five years.
What the loss means for Kansas State: The Wildcats were beaten by a better team, but they certainly shouldn't hang their heads over this one. Fighting back from an 18-point first-half deficit in any gym is quite a feat, but it's darn near impossible at Allen Fieldhouse. Still, there the Wildcats were, trailing by only three points midway through the second half. Frank Martin's squad should be able to learn a lot from Wednesday's loss and get better from it. Heck, it doesn't have any choice. Missouri visits Manhattan on Saturday and Baylor will be there three days later; those teams are a combined 28-0. The Wildcats need to win at least one of those games -- mainly because they are at home -- if they have any hopes of being in the mix for the Big 12 title.
Up next: Kansas travels to Oklahoma on Saturday for a game against the Sooners, who got blown out by Missouri on Tuesday in Columbia.
Kansas State hosts back-to-back undefeated teams, beginning Saturday with Missouri. Baylor visits Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday.