Frank Mason III

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

No. 1 Kansas beats No. 22 Baylor 70-66 in Big 12 semifinals

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Kansas coach Bill Self said the final couple minutes of Friday night’s Big 12 semifinal against Baylor didn’t take anything away from his team’s impressive second-half performance.

Even if it almost took away a win.

After overcoming a halftime deficit to build a comfortable lead, Self put in his backups to coax the game to its conclusion. But the No. 22 Bears rallied, forcing the Kansas starters back onto the floor, where they finally managed to finish off a 70-66 victory.

“I had one guy ask me yesterday, `Hey, when you get a lead in the last two minutes, why don’t you play your bench?”‘ Self said. “And I did. And it didn’t work out so great.”

Al Freeman’s 3-pointer got Baylor within 68-64 with 20 seconds left, and that was when Self sent his top players back on the floor. Jonathan Motley’s putback then got the Bears within three with five seconds to go, but Devonte Graham calmly made the second of two free throws at the other end to put the game away.

Graham had 14 points and eight assists as the Jayhawks (29-4) beat the Bears (22-11) for the third time this season – and avenged their tournament loss from a year ago. Perry Ellis scored 20 points.

Kansas will play sixth-ranked Oklahoma or No. 9 West Virginia for the title Saturday night.

“Proud that our guys didn’t quit at the end,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Kansas really executed well in the second half. I told coach Self, they guard so well.”

Freeman scored 14 points and Rico Gathers had 13 points and nine boards, but nobody in green got into much of a rhythm against the Jayhawks’ man-to-man defense. Taurean Prince was held to nine points, going 0 for 6 from beyond the arc, and Ish Wainwright managed four points on 2-for-9 shooting before fouling out.

The victory was the 13th straight for Kansas, which can match the number of tournament titles won by every other Big 12 school with its 10th. The Jayhawks also improved to 3-0 at the Sprint Center this season with their eighth consecutive win over the Bears.

Not that they didn’t have a chance: Baylor forged a 23-21 lead after a sloppy first half.

The teams combined for 17 turnovers, Kansas at one point throwing it away on four straight possessions. Baylor’s Lester Medford tossed a pass to nobody at one end of the floor, and then Ellis launched an air ball from beyond the arc as the teams went into a deep offensive funk.

For a while, it seemed as if nobody wanted to score.

There were only two real highlights: Graham had five assists for Kansas, including back-to-back alley-oop lobs to Ellis, and Jake Lindsey hit a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Bears the halftime edge.

Kansas began to take control as soon as it left the locker room.

Ellis went on a personal 8-0 run, and Wayne Selden Jr. woke up a sleepy crowd with a soaring dunk. A few minutes later, Graham tossed up a lob from just inside midcourt that Selden threw down for a 43-33 lead.

“We knew we were playing flat, kind of dead, not a lot of energy,” Graham said. “We knew we weren’t playing to our capability. … In the second half we tried to change it.”

Baylor began trying to get the ball to Gathers and Prince in the paint, but the Jayhawks did a good job of collapsing on defense. The Bears missed nine consecutive shots during a critical stretch midway through the second half, and that allowed the Jayhawks to establish a comfortable lead.

They wound up needing just about every point of it.

“We know the game is never over with us,” Freeman said. “We all have confidence in each other. Nobody has quit in them. We’re going to play every possession hard until it’s the last one in the game.”

QUOTABLE

Asked whether having to put the starters back in late in the game is a coach’s worst nightmare, Self replied: “No, the worst nightmare would be losing. This was just a bad dream.”

TIP-INS

Baylor: Motley finished with 11 points and seven rebounds. … The Bears were playing in their third straight semifinal. They still have never won the Big 12 Tournament.

Kansas: Carlton Bragg had 10 points and seven rebounds. He had a career-high 12 points in a quarterfinal win over Kansas State. … Frank Mason III had nine points and six rebounds.

UP NEXT

Baylor heads back to Waco, Texas.

Kansas plays for its first title since 2013.

Ellis leads No. 1 Kansas to 85-63 rout of K-State in Big 12s

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Perry Ellis scored 21 points, Frank Mason III added 16 and top-ranked Kansas ran roughshod over weary Kansas State, 85-63, on Thursday in the quarterfinals in the Big 12 Tournament.

The Jayhawks (28-4), who won their 12th consecutive regular-season crown, led 45-30 at halftime before pushing their advantage past 20 for much of the second half. They coasted the rest of their way to a semifinal matchup Friday night with No. 22 Baylor, which handled No. 23 Texas earlier in the day.

Carlton Bragg added a career-high 12 points for Kansas. Devonte Graham finished with 11.

The eighth-seeded Wildcats (17-16) were led by Justin Edwards, who hit five 3s and had 23 points. But the senior guard didn’t get nearly as much help as he had in a first-round victory over Oklahoma State.

Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson scored 10 apiece, but freshman forward Dean Wade – who had a career-high 20 against the Cowboys – was held to five points on 1-for-6 shooting. Fellow freshman Barry Brown was 1 of 8 from the field and managed only three points in 26 minutes.

Kansas State has never beaten Kansas in nine tries in the Big 12 tournament.

The Jayhawks, potentially playing for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, certainly looked the part before a heavily pro-Kansas crowd. They shot 57 percent from the field, had the edge in rebounding, assists and steals, and protected the ball so well Kansas State never made much of a run.

The few times the Wildcats mounted a charge, Ellis or Mason was there to answer it.

The biggest highlight may have come when Ellis soared for an alley-oop pass and slammed it down midway through the second half, sending the crowd in Sprint Center buzzing and giving Kansas a 55-37 lead.

Edwards kept trying to shoot Kansas State back in the game, but the rest of the Wildcats looked spent from their game against the Cowboys down the stretch. Kansas merely had to protect the basketball in the final minutes to wrap up its 12th consecutive victory.

CHEICK CHECK

Kansas forward Cheick Diallo did not play after needing five stitches in his mouth following an incident in practice Wednesday. Diallo, a five-star recruit, has struggled to earn minutes behind the Jayhawks’ bevy of veteran forwards. He hasn’t scored more than two points in a game since January.

TIP-INS

Kansas State: Edwards also had 10 rebounds. … The Wildcats shot 38 percent, including 6 of 18 from beyond the arc. … The last time the teams met in the Big 12 Tournament was the 2013 finals.

Kansas: Wayne Selden Jr. was held to five points on 1-for-6 shooting. … The Jayhawks improved to 19-1 in their opening game of the conference tournament. … Kansas swept the season series from Kansas State.

UP NEXT

Kansas State waits to hear if it is playing in the NIT.

Kansas plays the No. 22 Bears in Friday night’s semifinals.

No. 2 Kansas begins pursuit of 12th straight Big 12 title

Associated Press
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Rarely can Kansas play the Rodney Dangerfield card.

After all, this is the program founded by the game’s inventor, and that has Dr. James Naismith’s name on its floor. It’s the one that counts Phog Allen, Larry Brown and Roy Williams among its former coaches, and has five national title banners in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.

No respect? No chance.

Except perhaps in this respect: On Saturday, the second-ranked Jayhawks begin pursuit of a 12th straight conference championship, a feat matched only by the UCLA teams of the 1960s and `70s.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that people take the streak for granted,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I think our fans do. I think nationally, it has not got the respect in a lot of ways it deserves. But I also understand that what gets most of the attention now is what you do in the postseason, as opposed to the regular season. I understand that.”

Still, the remarkable string of Big 12 titles means something at Kansas.

Step outside the home locker room, turn right and head toward the Phog’s floor. There is a graphic pasted on the wall that shows each of the 11 rings won by previous teams.

There’s enough diamonds to make Marilyn Monroe happy in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

“What these players have done over time, and with so many different combinations and all those things in what is arguably as good a league as there is in the country, it’s pretty remarkable,” Self said. “I’m real proud of it.”

It is difficult to put “the Streak” into proper perspective.

When it began in 2005 with a shared title in Self’s second season on the sideline, current Kansas freshman Carlton Bragg was 9 years old. The team was led by a senior guard, Aaron Miles, who these days looks resplendent in a button-down suit as part of the Jayhawks’ staff.

Twitter did not exist. Nor did the iPhone. Lance Armstrong was still a hero to millions, Barack Obama was still a young senator from Illinois and Pluto was still a planet.

“Faces have changed but expectations and results haven’t,” Self said. “That’s one thing that I probably take the most pride in is that the kids, regardless of who you lost, it’s kind of the next man up, and that mantra – they’ve delivered. I take great pride in the consistency.”

Especially at a program that is constantly losing players early to the NBA, including one-and-done stars such as Andrew Wiggins that leave massive voids to be filled each spring.

Three times, the Jayhawks have kept their streak going with five new starters.

“Nobody wants to be the team that doesn’t win the 12th year in a row,” junior guard Frank Mason III said with conviction. “That’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

Some years, Kansas has kept it going easily. Other years have been a struggle.

The first two titles were shared with Oklahoma and Texas, the latter coming after a 3-4 start. When the Jayhawks won it all in 2008, they tied the Longhorns for the league title and were the second seed in the Big 12 tournament due to tiebreakers. Kansas tied Kansas State for the championship in 2013, then won it outright with five new starters the following year.

During the streak, the Jayhawks went a combined 28-0 against former Big 12 members Nebraska and Colorado. They’ve never lost to Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse, where they are 87-5 against league foes the past 11 seasons. They are 31-6 against Oklahoma and Iowa State during that stretch, the teams thought to be the biggest threats to ending more than a decade of dominance this year.

“The reality is, year-in and year-out, we have had as good of players as anybody. And so when you have as good of players as anybody, you should win games,” Self said. “Certainly this year, though, you can make a case that the teams in our league are every bit as talented.”

The third-ranked Sooners, whom the Jayhawks face Monday night, are 11-0. The No. 11 Cyclones have lost just once. Ditto for No. 19 West Virginia, while No. 23 Baylor has lost only twice.

Even rebuilding Texas Tech (10-1) and Kansas State (10-2) are off to good starts.

“A key in my opinion of winning the league will be holding serve at home, which obviously is no lock. And, of course, you’ve got to steal some on the road,” Self said. “The other thing I think is going to be very important for players to understand – and coaches – is it’s a long grind.”

One that Kansas has understood perfectly 11 straight years.

Ranking College Basketball’s Top Back Courts

Associated Press
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We’re labeling this as the nation’s top back courts, but truthfully, it’s the nation’s top perimeters. That’s why you’ll see guys like Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, small forwards that will play the four a lot this season, listed here. 

One thing we realized making this list: There are an inordinate number of talented guards in college basketball this season, especially those that will get labeled as lead guards. So many, in fact, that the likes of Miami, Iowa State and Texas A&M didn’t even crack the top 15.

Here is our list. What did we get wrong?

1. Kentucky (Jamal Murray, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe, Charles Matthews, Mychal Mulder)

They don’t rebuild in Lexington they reload, and John Calipari has quite the perimeter rotation at his disposal despite losing three of his top four guards from a season ago. The returnee is 5-foot-9 sophomore Tyler Ulis, who has emerged as this team’s leader. But he isn’t the only guard in the group who operates will with the ball in his hands, as both Briscoe and Murray will also have ample opportunities to create offensively. The 6-foot-4 Murray was one of the standouts at the Pan-American Games in Canada this summer, as he went off to lead the hosts past the United States in the semifinals. Matthews and Mulder aren’t slouches either, giving Kentucky additional talent and depth with their presence.

2. Wichita State (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet, Conner Frankamp, Landry Shamet, Evan Wessel)

Baker and VanVleet are two of the nation’s best at their respective positions and they’re going to appear on multiple preseason (and end of season, for that matter) All-America teams as a result. Wessel gives this group added toughness, and Kanas transfer Conner Frankamp will give Wichita State another capable shooter when he becomes eligible in December. The 6-foot-4 Shamet is a Top 100 recruit who will fight for minutes now and be a key figure for the Shockers in the years to come.

3. Indiana (James Blackmon Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Robert Johnson, Nick Zeisloft)

This group is one of the reasons why the Hoosiers will enter the 2015-16 season ranked, with senior point guard Yogi Ferrell leading the way. Ferrell led the Hoosiers in scoring and assists a season ago, and he also led the team in made three-pointers. Blackmon should be better as a sophomore after tailing off somewhat down the stretch last year and the same goes for classmate Johnson, with Zeisloft coming off of a year in which he shot 45 percent from beyond the arc.

4. North Carolina (Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II, Nate Britt, Theo Pinson, Kenny Williams)

Paige enters his senior season as one of the the best guards in the country, as he’s comfortable as either a scorer or a distributor for the Tar Heels. Jackson, who was a key contributor for North Carolina as a freshman, looks poised for a breakout year as he moves into the starting spot left vacant by J.P. Tokoto, and classmate Pinson is healthy after dealing with injuries last season. Both Berry and Britt are capable contributors but they have to get better as playmakers, thus relieving some of the pressure on Paige. The one thing this group was missing a season ago was another shooter to go with Paige, and if called upon Williams has the ability to be that guy.

5. Michigan (Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Spike Albrecht, Kameron Chatman, Aubrey Dawkins, Duncan Robinson)

Irvin is working his way back to 100 percent after undergoing back surgery in early September, and his return will make Michigan’s perimeter attack one of the deepest and most talented groups in the country. LeVert was projected by some to be an All-America caliber player prior to last season, and Walton and Irvin are also players capable of earning postseason honors. Albrecht will also be a factor, with Abdur-Rahkman, Chatman and Dawkins gaining valuable experience as freshmen due to the injuries that sidelined LeVert and Walton. The “wild card” is Robinson, who sat out last season after averaging 17.1 points per game as a freshman at Division III Williams College in 2013-14.

RELATED: Top front courts in college basketball | Top 100 Players

Buddy Hield (AP Photo)
Buddy Hield (AP Photo)

6. Oklahoma (Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard, Chrisyian James, Rashard Odomes, Dinjiyl Walker)

Lon Kruger’s perimeter rotation won’t lack for experience as reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Hield and Cousins are both seniors and Woodard will be a junior. Walker played 10.6 minutes per game as a junior last season and figures to be in a similar reserve role. As for the freshmen, both James and Odomes are players who will look to earn minutes but ultimately benefit down the line from competing with (and against, in practice) the veteran guards.

7. Villanova (Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo)

Big East Co-Player of the Year Arcidiacono is back for his senior season, with Big East tournament MOP Josh Hart appearing poised to take a significant step forward as a junior. And then there are the freshmen, most notably a lead guard in Brunson who enters college as one of the best at his position. DiVincenzo and Bridges, with the latter having redshirted last season, give Villanova additional skill and athleticism on the wing and Booth gives Wright another point guard to call upon.

8. Duke (Brandon Ingram, Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard, Derryck Thornton Jr.)

Allen, who stepped forward in a big way in the national title game, returns for his sophomore season and Jones gives Duke an experienced wing option who’s a solid defender and capable perimeter shooter. Given the personnel losses the three freshmen will be especially important this year, with Thornton being asked to take over at the point and Ingram being a slender wing who can score from anywhere on the court. As for Kennard, he’s good enough to see time at both guard spots, and given Duke’s numbers he’ll likely have to do just that.

9. Maryland (Melo Trimble, Jake Layman, Jared Nickens, Rasheed Sulaimon, Dion Wiley, Jaylen Brantley)

The Terrapins did lose leader Dez Wells from last season’s NCAA tournament team, but most of the perimeter rotation returns led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Melo Trimble. Trimble’s a handful with the ball in his hands, making sound decisions in ball screen situations and getting to the foul line at a very high rate. Layman, who took a step forward as a junior, has the potential to be even better as a senior with Nickens and Wiley looking to earn more minutes as sophomores. And the newcomers, Brantley and Sulaimon, will also contribute with the latter giving Maryland another quality perimeter shooter (and he’s a good defender too).

10. California (Tyrone Wallace, Jaylen Brown, Jabari Bird, Stephen Domingo, Jordan Mathews, Sam Singer)

Depth, which was an issue all over the court for the Golden Bears a season ago, won’t be a problem in 2015-16. Wallace, one of the nation’s top point guards, leads the way with a trio of juniors (Bird, Mathews and Singer) also having a wealth of experience. Add in two talented newcomers in Brown, who could see time at the four in smaller lineups, and Georgetown transfer Domingo and head coach Cuonzo Martin has a host of options at his disposal.

Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)
Tyrone Wallace (AP Photo)

11. Virginia (Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, Marial Shayok, Devon Hall, Evan Nolte, Darius Thompson)

The Cavaliers have to account for the departure of Justin Anderson on the perimeter, but it certainly helps to have veterans Brogdon and Perrantes back on campus. Brodgon was a first team All-ACC selection a season ago, and his skill on both ends of the floor merits All-America mention this season. Perrantes is a solid floor general who can do even more from a scoring standpoint. Nolte and Shayok were rotation players last season, and Hall and Thompson (who redshirted after transferring in from Tennessee) will also compete for minutes.

12. Michigan State (Denzel Valentine, Eron Harris, Tum Tum Nairn, Bryn Forbes, Matt McQuaid, Kyle Ahrens, Alvin Ellis)

This group is led by one of the nation’s most versatile players in Valentine, who can play anywhere from the one to the three depending on match-ups. Forbes should be more consistent in his second season with the program, and Nairn looks poised to step forward as the next in a long line of high-level point guards to play for Izzo. Harris is a transfer from West Virginia who many expect to hit the ground running, and Ellis will also look to solidify his spot in the rotation. As for the freshmen, they’ll look to carve out roles in what is a deep rotation.

13. Connecticut (Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, Rodney Purvis, Jalen Adams, Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr.)

Ryan Boatright’s moved on, but UConn’s perimeter rotation is more balanced (and deeper) than it was a season ago. Part of that is due to their additions, with the explosive Adams and experienced Gibbs joining the ranks. As for holdovers, head coach Kevin Ollie has those as well with Calhoun being a senior, Cassell and Purvis (who put together some solid outings down the stretch last season) being juniors and the versatile Hamilton (AAC Rookie of the Year) being a sophomore.

14. Kansas (Wayne Selden Jr., Frank Mason III, Svi Mykhailiuk, Devonté Graham, Brannen Greene, LaGerald Vick)

This ranking could prove to be low at season’s end, depending upon (in part) the progress made by Selden. The junior played very well at the World University Games in South Korea this summer, and if he can build on that play the Jayhawks will undoubtedly have one of the top guards in the country. Mason gives them an absolute pitbull at the point, with Graham being another player capable of running the point. And in Green, Mykhailiuk and Vick, Kansas won’t lack for depth on the wings either.

15. Florida State (Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Dwayne Bacon, Devon Bookert, Montay Brandon, Terance Mann, Malik Beasley, Benji Bell, Robbie Berwick)

While he’ll once again be one of the top guards in the ACC, Rathan-Mayes will have some much-needed help on the perimeter. Bookert and Brandon give Florida State two experienced seniors, Berwick saw solid minutes as a freshman, and their newcomers arrive on campus amidst much fanfare. Bacon may be the marquee freshman, but Beasley and Mann will also compete for minutes with junior college transfer Bell looking to do the same.

Also Considered: Miami, Iowa State, UCLA, Notre Dame, LSU, Louisville, Providence, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M