GAME NOTES: Taking aim at their ninth consecutive Big 12 regular season title, the sixth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks hit the road for conference action on Saturday, against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock.
It wasn't easy, but Bill Self's Jayhawks opened Big 12 play at home this week, with a 97-89 overtime victory against a very tough Iowa State squad. The win was the team's 12th straight since its only loss of the season, a 67-64 setback to Michigan State on Nov. 13.
Chris Walker's first season with Texas Tech has come with mixed reviews thus far. The team is three games over .500 at 8-5, but all five losses have come at United Spirit Arena. One of those occurred in the team's last outing, an 82-48 rout at the hands of Baylor. The loss halted a three-game win streak and dropped the Red Raiders to 1-1 in-conference.
Kansas has dominated this series with wins in 22 of the 26 matchups. The Jayhawks have won five straight meetings and seven of the last eight overall.
Kansas earned its 22nd straight conference-opening win and 31st straight victory at the Allen Fieldhouse in exciting fashion, dominating the overtime period against Iowa State. Ben McLemore led the way with a career-high 33 points, the most by a KU freshman since Danny Manning's 35 points against Oklahoma State in 1985. McLemore was 10-of-12 from the floor, including a perfect 6-of-6 from behind the arc. Meanwhile Jeff Withey and Kevin Young owned the paint, both recording double-doubles. Withey posted 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Young finished with 10 points and 12 boards as well. Point guard Elijah Johnson wasn't to be overshadowed though, as he also posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists. Travis Releford finished off the scoring onslaught with 12 points as well.
It has been that kind of season for Kansas thus far, as the team has flourished at the offensive end of the floor, averaging 79.1 ppg, on almost 50 percent shooting (.499). The Jayhawks have also had stretches of great defensive play, with opponents averaging just 61.4 ppg on under 35 percent shooting (.349). McLemore has made an immediate impact, shooting .510 from the floor, including .459 from 3-point range, to average a team-high 16.9 ppg. Withey has been a beast in the middle, as the seven-footer averages 13.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, while leading the nation in blocked shots (5.1 bpg). Releford is converting a ridiculous 62.9 percent of his shots and puts up 13.3 ppg, while Johnson is both a scorer (10.1 ppg) and deft distributor (5.6 apg).
Mediocre play at both ends of the floor has plagued the Red Raiders this season. The team is outscoring opponents by just 2.8 points per game, but is averaging a modest 73.2 ppg on a bland 44.4 percent shooting. Jaye Crockett is an efficient scorer, netting a team-best 14.8 ppg on 56.7 percent shooting. He is also the top rebounder on the roster at 8.5 rpg. Josh Gray is the only other double-digit threat at this time, netting 10.0 ppg, although Dejan Kravic and Jordan Tolbert are eager to join the group with 9.5 and 8.4 ppg, respectively.
The Red Raiders converted just 30.5 percent from the field, weighed down by an ugly 5-of-24 showing from 3-point range, while Baylor lit up the scoreboard at a 53.6 percent clip. Crockett led the team with 13 points off the bench, but received little help from the rest of the roster in the embarrassing 34-point loss. Baylor held a 41-31 edge in rebounding and outscored the hometown Red Raiders at the free-throw line 14-7.
Texas Tech's inability to dominate at home doesn't bode well for the team on Saturday. Kansas can win games at either end of the floor and will take what the Red Raiders offer, en route to a double-digit win.