Wayne Selden Jr.

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No. 1 Kansas advances to Sweet 16 for first time in three years

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Since losing to Kentucky in the 2012 national title game, South No. 1 Kansas has gone no further than the Sweet 16 in any of the three NCAA tournaments that followed. But this year’s edition of the Jayhawks are a more complete team than any of those three squads, and entering this tournament Bill Self’s team was seen by many as the favorites to cut down the nets.

Saturday night Kansas moved one step closer to its first national title in eight years with a 73-61 win over No. 9 UConn in Des Moines.

After going on a 13-0 run early in the first half Kansas ripped off a 19-0 that essentially removed any doubt regarding the outcome, as their play on both ends of the floor proved to be too much for the Huskies. Kevin Ollie’s team trimmed the deficit to nine in the second half, but at that point Kansas re-applied itself defensively to take control of the game for good.

UConn didn’t have an answer for Kansas’ offense for most of the game, with Perry Ellis scoring 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting while also grabbing eight boards and Wayne Selden Jr. added 22 on 8-for-15 from the field. Kansas shot 56 percent in the first half, and if not for a sluggish start to the second half their percentage for the game would have been higher than the 49 percent they finished with.

Defensively the Jayhawks kept the Huskies out of the paint, forcing UConn to settle for challenged two-point shots and drives to the basket that resulted in Jamari Traylor blocks in a couple instances. And as the stops added up so did the margin, with Kansas controlling the boards on both ends of the floor as well.

Next up for Kansas is either No. 5 Maryland or No. 13 Hawai’i, and if they play anywhere near the level they played at for most of their two games in Des Moines the Big 12 champs are going to be an incredibly tough out.

There may not be a “star” with the hype of an Andrew Wiggins (2014) on this roster, but Kansas has the depth and talent needed to find an answer for whatever the opposition offers up. And given the topsy-turvy nature of both this season and this tournament, that may be enough to win the national title.

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.

POSTERIZED: Wayne Selden Jr. throws down vicious dunk on Baylor defender

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Like his teammates, Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. got off to a slow start in the first half of his team’s Big 12 tournament semifinal against Baylor. But the Jayhawks got going in the second half, and Selden’s dunk on Baylor’s Ishmail Wainwright proved to be the highlight of the game.

Wainwright had good intentions when he attempted to rotate over to get between Selden and the basket in the second half of their Big 12 semifinal matchup. Unfortunately for Wainwright things did not work out as he likely envisioned, as his rotation was a bit late and Selden took flight for a powerful one-handed dunk.

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And to add insult to “injury,” Wainwright fouled out on the play. And the reaction that Selden’s uncle had to the dunk was priceless.

Vine credit: The Cauldron

No. 1 Kansas beats No. 21 Iowa State for 11th straight win

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Having already wrapped up the Big 12 regular season title, the program’s 12th consecutive, No. 1 Kansas entered Saturday’s game against No. 21 Iowa State looking to complete an undefeated run through the home portion of their schedule. The Cyclones were competitive throughout, but in the end the Jayhawks simply had too many options as they won 85-78 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas outscored Iowa State 17-7 over the final 5:09, limiting the Cyclones to just one made field goal during that stretch. On Senior Day it was senior forward Perry Ellis who led the way offensively, scoring his team-best 22 points on shots from both inside and out while also grabbing seven rebounds. Bill Self’s team doesn’t lack for depth or talent, and both attributes were on display during the game’s decisive run.

Wayne Selden Jr. and Devonté Graham added 16 points apiece, and five different Jayhawks scored during the run that decided the outcome. While there can be a tendency to look for a headliner capable of taking over a game this time of year, there’s also great value in having multiple players capable of stepping forward on any given night. That’s a luxury Kansas has, and it’s one reason why they’re seen as a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston.

Kansas found quality looks offensively and took care of the basketball in the second half, shooting better than 58 percent from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes. That can wear an opponent down, especially one that lacks depth like Iowa State.

The Cyclones received good minutes from their front court, most notably Georges Niang and Jameel McKay as they combined to score 41 points. But point guard Monté Morris shot just 3-for-10 from the field in scoring his 13 points, and Abdel Nader was relatively quiet as well. Given how Kansas executes offensively, everyone has to be clicking on all cylinders if you’re going to leave Allen Fieldhouse with a win. But there are positives to be taken from this defeat if you’re Iowa State, most notably the play of McKay.

The senior forward, who’s an incredibly important figure for Iowa State as they look to make a run in the NCAA tournament, has been a bit of an enigma at times this season. There was the two-game suspension served last month, and there have been times on the floor where he wasn’t providing the energy Iowa State needs from the pivot to make up for their lack of interior depth.

If McKay plays as he can consistently, Iowa State has the tools needed to make some noise. They can win games with McKay being a minor (or non-existent) cog in the attack, but the task becomes a lot more difficult for Iowa State when that’s the case.

Kansas has no such question marks at this time, as they’re playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Winners of 11 straight, the Jayhawks are fully capable of extending that streak into early April.

Ellis helps No. 7 Kansas pull away from Kansas State, 77-59

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Kansas coach Bill Self was only slightly happier Wednesday night than Kansas State counterpart Bruce Weber, and the only reason for that was his seventh-ranked Jayhawks had won.

“I’ll be candid,” Self said after the 77-59 victory, “they outplayed us. They beat us to loose balls, they outhustled us. … That’s about as soft as I can remember one of our teams playing.”

Perry Ellis scored 19 points, and Svi Mykhailiuk and Devonte Graham added 10 points apiece, to bail out the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12) on a night they were dominated on the glass.

Kansas managed two offensive rebounds while getting outrebounded 36-21 by an undersized opponent.

“It wasn’t a well-played game on our part at all,” Self said. “But I think K-State, they came ready to play. I thought their defense was really, really good. I think they shrunk the floor on ball screens, they control the glass. … For some reason we were still ahead.”

That reason was probably the Wildcats’ 23 turnovers.

“One of the things I put on the board was, `Make simple basketball plays,”‘ Weber said. “We try to do too much sometimes and don’t let the game come to us.”

Stephen Hurt had 14 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Wildcats, who have not won at Kansas since 2006 – three coaches ago. Wesley Iwundu added 15 points but also had six turnovers.

“Coach said, `You can’t let offense determine defense,’ and that happened to us,” Iwundu said.

Not in the first 15 minutes. That part of the game belonged to Kansas State, which clogged the lane and forced a handful of early turnovers of its own to take an early 18-10 lead.

“We can’t do that,” Graham said. “We have to come out and know everyone is coming after our heads.”

Eventually, Ellis and Mykhailiuk knocked down 3s to help start a first-half run, and Frank Mason III countered his balky shot with some hustle that created plays for others. After one hard landing, the guard got up to find the white sleeve covering his right calf and knee soaked through with blood.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats slowly began to lose their composure.

After Mason’s basket with 12 seconds to go, Hurt turned the ball over on the inbounds play, sending Weber into an uproar. He stormed across the court after one of the officials and appeared to be close to getting a technical foul before assistants reined him in.

“I tried to keep my poise. And for 16 minutes, I told the official, I kept it to myself,” Weber said. “You have to fight through it and be tougher than that.”

Then again, Weber wasn’t any happier when Brannen Greene knocked down a 3-pointer and was fouled, converting a rare four-point play with 2 seconds left that gave Kansas a 39-29 lead.

Kansas State trimmed its deficit to 47-45 on a basket by D.J. Johnson with just under 12 minutes to go, but Wayne Selden III answered with a 3 from the wing and a layup off an alley-oop pass.

That kicked off one more big run that allowed the Jayhawks to seize control of the game.

“It was amazing to me, we were up 10 at the half and I felt like it was a tie,” Self said. “It was one of those games, I looked up and I was surprised we had the lead.”

STOKES SURGERY

Kansas State guard Kamau Stokes will have surgery on his right knee Thursday. He was hurt in last Saturday’s win over Mississippi. “He’ll probably be out for a while,” Weber said without giving details on the nature of the surgery. “It’s a miracle that he could come back (this season).”

TIP-INS

Kansas State: Johnson had nine points before fouling out. He played 12 minutes. … The Wildcats finished with a 36-21 rebounding advantage. … Kansas State is 1-6 in road games.

Kansas: C Hunter Mickelson did not play while dealing with a high ankle sprain. … Landen Lucas, who fouled out, had eight points and six rebounds. … Kansas was 16 of 22 from the free throw line.

UP NEXT

Kansas State plays No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday.

Kansas visits TCU on Saturday.

‘Aggressive Wayne’ changes the equation for No. 4 Kansas

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With the two winningest programs in the history of college basketball meeting at Allen Fieldhouse, the expectation was that No. 20 Kentucky and No. 4 Kansas would put forth a good show. The two teams more than lived up to the expectations, but ultimately it was the play of Kansas junior guard Wayne Selden Jr. that made the difference.

Selden scored a career-high 33 points, shooting 12-for-20 from the field, to lead the Jayhawks to a 90-84 overtime victory.

Kansas managed to come back in spite of some subpar foul shooting, as they shot just 30-for-47 from the foul line for the game. In the second half, as the Jayhawks looked to cut into a Kentucky lead that grew to as much as eight points, Bill Self’s team made a habit of splitting trips to the foul line. But as Kentucky’s big men battled foul trouble and freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe cramps, the Jayhawks were able to mount a rally to grab the lead.

The spark was Selden, a gifted off guard who far too often seems to blend into the action as opposed to using his talents to assert himself. That wasn’t an issue against the Wildcats, as Selden was in attack mode from the start. That took its toll on Kentucky defensively, with Selden scoring Kansas’ next ten points after Kentucky took an eight-point lead with 13:54 remaining.

Kentucky played well, with point guard Tyler Ulis scoring 26 points and dishing out eight assists to lead the way. Kentucky’s a much-improved team over the last two weeks, and a big reason for that has been the play and intangibles supplied by Ulis. Coaches want leaders to emerge over the course of a season, and not only has Ulis done that but he’s also managed to take his teammates along with him.

The front court still need to be more consistent moving forward, but the progress shown by this group was evident even in defeat. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they didn’t have enough left in the tank to slow down Selden and the Jayhawks as they made their run.

Selden’s production not only applied pressure to Kentucky’s defense in the second half but it also gave his teammates the confidence needed to make plays themselves. That’s the kind of player he can be, and it’s what makes his periods of simply blending into the action so frustrating.

Kansas has talent, depth and experience, all of which was on display at various points in Saturday’s win. But if Bill Self’s team is to not only extend its streak of consecutive Big 12 regular season titles to 12 but also play deep into March, they need Selden to consistently be the “take charge” offensive option he was against Kentucky.

With the offense Kansas runs he doesn’t have to look for 25 shots a night, and the system wouldn’t work as well if he did to that level. But an aggressive Wayne Selden Jr. opens things up for the other Jayhawks, making them an even tougher team to defend as a result.