LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Lon Kruger knew that if Oklahoma was going to keep No. 5 Kansas from clinching at least a share of its 10th straight Big 12 title, it would have to weather the Jayhawks’ runs.
The Sooners survived one to open the game. They even survived a second one to end the first half. But it was the third surge that finally did in the Sooners, allowing the Jayhawks to hold on for an 83-75 victory and another conference crown.
“The difference really is in the runs they make,” Kruger said. “That’s what you’ve got to try to avoid. Easier said than done.”
Naadir Tharpe had 19 points, Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins added 15 points each, and Joel Embiid had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Jayhawks (22-6, 13-2 Big 12), who poured off the bench at the buzzer to celebrate the latest addition to their nation-leading 57 conference titles.
It might be the only one for Wiggins and Embiid, the dynamic freshman duo projected to be lottery picks if they come out this season. Wiggins has already stated his intention to do so.
“Just a great feeling,” Tharpe said. “To be at home, to hear the fans and all that, it’s a beautiful feeling. It just shows the tradition of Kansas and what it means to us.”
Only two schools in men’s Division I basketball have won more consecutive conference titles than Kansas: UCLA captured 13 straight from 1967-79 in the Pac-10, and Gonzaga won 11 straight in the West Coast Conference from 2001-11.
Cameron Clark had 18 points and Buddy Hield finished with 16 for the Sooners (20-8, 9-6), who have lost 12 of their last 13 games against the Jayhawks, including both this season.
Oklahoma hasn’t won at the Phog since 1993.
“They made a couple shots,” Clark said. “We made a couple shots. I think the main thing is we didn’t take care of the ball in critical times. We’ve just got to learn from that.”
The first half Monday night boiled down to an old-fashioned Big Eight tussle.
The Jayhawks threw the first body punch, picking up right where they left off in a rout of Texas by taking a 15-4 lead. Oklahoma answered with a few haymakers of its own, going on a 13-2 charge and eventually pulling ahead 27-25 with 5:26 left in the half.
“I thought our shot selection was pretty good,” Kruger said. “After the initial four or five minutes, I thought our guys got more comfortable in attacking and making the extra pass.”
Selden took over late in the half, scoring seven straight points to give Kansas back the lead. Frank Mason’s 3-pointer capped a 10-0 surge and made it 42-33 at halftime.
The Jayhawks, arguably the deepest team in the Big 12, forged their lead despite playing without a handful of players due to foul trouble. Wiggins, Tharpe, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor all had two fouls, and Connor Frankamp was on the bench with three.
Wiggins picked up his third on the first play of the second half, when Ryan Spangler drove to the basket for an and-one. It was the start of a 10-2 run that got the Sooners back in the game.
“All their big guys that come in are great,” Spangler said. “It’s fun to battle with them..”
Clark’s hot shooting and a couple of timely 3-pointers by Hield gave Oklahoma the lead, only for Kansas to come back once more. Wiggins scored on a putback of his own miss with 8:01 left to give the Jayhawks a 60-59 lead, and their advantage grew to 69-63 a few minutes later.
The Sooners kept finding answers. When Wiggins hit a 3-pointer to make it 74-66, Isaiah Cousins promptly scored in the paint. When Tharpe got a home-rim bounce on a pull-up jumper, Hield was there to hit a fall-away 3-pointer to close within 76-71 with 1:30 left.
Oklahoma simply ran out of time, and as the final seconds ticked off the clock, another sellout crowd at the Phog began to chant, “Ten straight! Ten straight!”
“It’s not like you’re doing that in a bad league,” Kruger said. “They’ve done it in a very good league with a lot of other good teams through the 10 years.”