- Jason King
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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- A few quick thoughts from Kansas' 83-62 victory over Kansas State Monday at Allen Fieldhouse.
Overview: Even after three straight losses -- including one against last-place TCU -- the Kansas Jayhawks sent a loud reminder to their Big 12 brethren Monday that the road to the conference title still runs through Lawrence.
Ben McLemore (30 points), Jeff Withey (17), Kevin Young (13) and Travis Releford (10) all scored in double figures for a KU squad that led in-state rival K-State by as many as 25 points in the second half. The game, though, was lopsided from the very start, as the Jayhawks used an 18-6 early scoring run to turn a 10-7 lead into a 28-13 cushion.
Kansas State never threatened after that.
The No. 10 Wildcats entered the game on a four-game winning streak, but like so many teams before them, they struggled against KU in Lawrence, where they've now lost 18 of their past 19 meetings. Kansas has won 46 of its past 49 contests against K-State and is 37-3 against KSU since the inception of the Big 12.
Monday, though, was supposed to be different.
Kansas entered the contest in its biggest funk of the Bill Self era. Consecutive losses to Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma marked the first time since 2005 that KU had dropped three straight games. The TCU defeat was particularly disturbing, as KU scored just four points in the first 16 minutes against arguably the worst team in Big 12 history. Based on the RPI of each team, it's been dubbed the biggest upset in college basketball in more than 20 years.
None of that mattered Monday at Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas has now won 103 of its past 105 contests.
As important as it was to regain the confidence it clearly lacked the past few weeks, Monday's victory was also huge for KU when it comes to the race for the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks have won eight straight league crowns, but entered the game ranked second in the standings. At 8-3, Kansas and Kansas State are now tied for the league lead and Oklahoma State is a half-game back at 7-3. Baylor, Oklahoma and Iowa State aren't far behind at 6-4.
Turning point: The early scoring run that put KU ahead 28-13 was obviously huge, but Kansas went on another march before intermission when it outscored KSU 14-3. That surge left the Jayhawks ahead 42-22. After that ... curtains.
Player of the game: McLemore had the gaudiest stat line, but the play of backup point guard Naadir Tharpe may have been the most encouraging aspect of the game for Kansas. Tharpe had 7 points, 8 assists and only 1 turnover while filling in for struggling starter Elijah Johnson, who has drawn criticism in recent weeks for his erratic play. Tharpe played 27 minutes and Johnson (5 points, 4 turnovers) logged 28. Things were clearly more cohesive when both players were on the court at the same time, as Johnson was able to move to his natural position of shooting guard.
Key stat: Withey passed Greg Ostertag for first place on the school's all-time blocks list. Ostertag blocked 258 shots from 1992 to '95. Withey, a senior who wasn't a rotation player until last season, now has 263 career swats. The Big 12 record is 264 by Texas' Chris Mihm. ... Kansas had 12 assists in the first half, which is more than it had for the entire game against both TCU and Oklahoma. ... The Jayhawks also shot 58.6 percent in the opening stanza and made 5 of 10 3-pointers.
Up next: Both teams have home games Saturday. Kansas State hosts Baylor while Kansas welcomes Texas to Allen Fieldhouse for "College GameDay."