We’ve been telling you that the 2013-14 Big 12 men’s basketball race was going to be a battle royal all season, regardless of who and where the games are played. The results of this weekend’s conference games bear that out, with the home teams holding court in three of the five games.
The featured game this weekend took place at Kansas, where the Jayhawks built up a 17-point halftime lead over visiting Oklahoma State, but had to hold on in the final seconds for a hard-ffought 80-78 victory. Not only was this the game of the weekend in the Big 12, but it was one of top games nationally in college basketball, with No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 15 Kansas.
The Jayhawks, now 4-0 in the conference and 13-4 overall, completely dominated in the first half of their game on Saturday. Allen Fieldhouse is always unbelievably loud, and when Kansas went on a 13-0 run in the opening 20 minutes, the rafters were rattling and Oklahoma State (15-4, 3-2) was reeling as the Jayhawks ecpanded a one-point lead to a 29-15 margin over a five-minute span.Kansas led 37-20 at the break and appeared to have the game well in hand, but head coach Bill Self was not at all convinced of that. He had seen big leads like this evaporate in a hurry in the past against good teams, and there is no question that Oklahoma State is better than the way they played in the first half at Kansas on Saturday.
“Our offense was so bad,” lamented OSU coach Travis Ford after the game, referring to his team’s first-half performance. “A lot of one-on-one forced shots. That put a lot of pressure on our defense.”
Self’s concern turned out to be prescient, as the Cowboys came stampeding back in the second half, slowly chipping away at the Jayhawk advantage. The Cowboys narrowed the Kansas lead to four points by the 12-and-a-half-minute mark in the second half, signaling that the game was back on.
“This is like having a lead in the second inning,” Self mused after the win was safely in his pocket. “It’s too early. We played well the first half with a free mind. It flip-flopped (in the second half).”
The Jayhawks have had someone new stand out in each of it four conference wins this month. On Saturday, the big hero was junior guard Naadir Tharpe, who scorched the Cowboys for a team-high 21 points and scored six of KU’s final seven points. Freshman Joel Embiid, who has played extremely well in KU’s last several games, added 13 for the Jayhawks. Five Oklahoma State players scored in double figures, led by Phil Forte’s 23 points on seven three-pointers. Senior forward Markel Brown added five three-pointers and 15 points.
One thing that was not sound about Kansas’ play on Saturday was in turnover department. The Jayhawks committed a game-high 19 turnovers against the Cowboys and had 24 in a winning effort on the road at Iowa State last Monday. Teams that commit that many turnovers are very vulnerable over the long haul.
As good as the nationally televised game in Lawrence was on Saturday, there were a couple of other big games in the conference at Baylor and Texas.
Playing at home against Oklahoma, Baylor held a four-to-six-point lead throughout the first half as the conference’s highest-scoring team, the Sooners, shot a miserable 23 percent in the opening stanza. Despite their poor shooting, OU found itself down by just six points at the intermission. The Sooners began finding the range in the second half, especially from behind the three-point arc, and gradually moved out in front of the 12-ranked Bears in the second half.
The Sooners led by six points with under a minute to go in the game, but Baylor rallied to within two points and had the ball with a chance to win or tie at the end with nine seconds remaining. The Bears were not able to get off a shot, however, before time expirted, and Oklahoma (14-4, 3-2) held on to notch its third conference win. Baylor, on the other hand, dropped its second game in three days and fell to 1-3 in the conference after going 12-1 in nonconference games to begin the season. The loss snapped the Bears’ 13-game winning streak at home at the Ferrell Center.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield was the high-point man for the Sooners, and all 19 of his points came in the second half.
Baylor wasn’t the only team in the league that experiened a horrible week. Iowa State ran into a buzz saw in Austin on Saturday and fell victim for the second time in a week, falling victim to the amped-up Texas Longhorns 86-76 in what has to be considered a mile upset. The Cyclones (14-3), 2-3), who were won of four undefeated teams in the country before last Saturday, never could get their offense on track, shooting uncer 40 percent for the game. At least some of the credit for Iowa State’s poor shooting performance has to go to the stingy Texas defense on Saturday.
In the course of seven days, Iowa State has lost at Oklahoma, at home last Monday to Kansas and again on Saturday at Texas. The Longhorns lost their conference opener at home to Oklahoma, but since then have won three of their last four league outings to climb into a three-way tie for third place with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
In other games on Saturday, Kansas State ran its conference record to 4-1 (with a loss to conference-leading Kansas its only league loss) with a relatively easy win over West Virginia in coach Bob Huggins’ return to the Little Apple, where he coached for one season in 2006-2007. And Texas Tech made it two wins in a row ater starting the season with three consecutive conference losses with a 60-49 road victory at TCU.
Every game in the Big 12 this season is seemingly deserving of being labeled a big game. And the next game on the league schedule totally bears that out. Baylor comes to Lawrence on Big Monday to go up against Big 12 leader Kansas.