LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Facing a team they had beaten 12 straight times and with the biggest game of the season just two days away, it would have been easy for the Kansas Jayhawks to peek ahead.
They didn't -- and it might be the biggest sign yet that this young team is ready to make a run at another Big 12 title.
Riding another impressive defensive performance and Sherron Collins' steady leadership, the Jayhawks (No. 18 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP)
beat Nebraska 70-53 on Saturday, putting to rest any notion they might have been looking ahead to a showdown with No. 2 Oklahoma.
Collins had 22 points, Cole Aldrich added 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Kansas pulled away in the second half to set up a battle for first place against the Sooners on Monday night.
"Now we can talk about Oklahoma," Collins said.
Kansas (22-5, 11-1) struggled with Nebraska's pressure defense in the teams' first meeting, turning it over 21 times before eking out a six-point win. The Jayhawks had a few problems this time -- 15 turnovers -- but made up for it with some pretty good defense of their own, holding the Big 12's worst shooting team to 38 percent.
Collins didn't have a turnover for the second straight game and Kansas shot a respectable 47 percent against the Big 12's best scoring defense to extend the nation's longest home winning streak to 39 games. Next up is Monday's road game against Oklahoma, where the Jayhawks can put themselves in position for a fifth consecutive Big 12 championship.
Not bad for a team that's supposed to be rebuilding.
"I'm proud of our kids that 13 games into the conference season we can say we're playing for first place," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Nebraska (16-9, 6-6) still holds out hope for its first NCAA tournament berth in 11 years and a win at Kansas would have gone a long way to making it more of a possibility. The Cornhuskers kept it close early with defensive pressure, but had another poor shooting game and couldn't keep Kansas off the offensive glass to lose its 10th straight at Allen Fieldhouse.
Ade Dagunduro had 13 points for Nebraska, which shot under 40 percent for the third time in four games and was outscored 23-2 on second-chance points.
"We knew coming in here that it was going to be a tough game to win, but for the first time since I've been here we knew that if we played well we had a chance to win," Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said. "We made too many mental mistakes and they are way too good to make mental mistakes against."
Kansas is off to its best conference start in six years and has dominated the series against Nebraska, winning 13 straight and 22 of 23. The danger for the Jayhawks was getting ahead of themselves, thinking about Monday's game instead of focusing on the gritty Cornhuskers.
Kansas has had trouble with concentration at times this season, most recently on Wednesday against Iowa State, when it pulled out a 72-55 win after blowing nearly all of a big first-half lead.
The Jayhawks and couldn't afford another letdown against Nebraska.
Quick and aggressive, the guard-heavy Cornhuskers had won four of their previous five games and have the conference's best scoring defense at 58.2 points per game. Nebraska gave Kansas all kinds of problems in the teams' first meeting this season, making the Jayhawks earn their 68-62 win on Jan. 28.
The Cornhuskers haven't won in Lawrence since 1999 and were blown out by the second-largest margin in school history (53) their last time at Allen Fieldhouse.
This game, though, was more like the last one in Lincoln -- at least for a little while.
Kansas held Nebraska without a field goal for nearly 7 minutes in the first half to go up by 10, then went on a 12-4 run keyed by Collins, who hit four straight jumpers after not taking a shot the first 13˝ minutes.
"We had too many mental breakdowns on defense," Sadler said. "They made the shots, but we made a mistake in the process."
Nebraska wouldn't go away, though, using its defense to lengthen Kansas' possessions, keeping the score low. The Cornhuskers answered both of the Jayhawks' first-half runs with short ones of their own, then cut the lead to 38-32 on Dagunduro's three-point play 3 minutes into the second.
But that was it for Nebraska.
Kansas held the Cornhuskers to one field goal over the next 8 minutes and started to pull away. Collins hit a fadeaway 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer and Markieff Morris brought the crowd to its feet with a rebound slam that made it 50-35 with just under 10 minutes left to put it out of reach -- and set up the biggest game of the season.
"We were all excited about this game because in Lincoln they gave us a great run for our money -- and they broke my nose," said Aldrich, who played without a mask for the first time since that game. "It was exciting to grow more as a team and get ready to play the big games coming up."