Kansas’ quest to bring a 15th-consecutive Big 12 championship to Lawrence began on Wednesday night, with the fifth-ranked Jayhawks taking down the No. 23 Oklahoma Sooners 70-63.
The win was KU 28th-straight victory in a conference opener. That streak dates back to the 1991-92 season. Kansas also built on its recent fortunes against Oklahoma with the win, as the Jayhawks have now won six of the last seven head-to-head meetings between the two.
Oklahoma struggled throughout the night offensively, but started each half with 7-0 bursts. In the opening period, Kansas countered that with a 21-4 run and led by 15 at the break.
As for the second half, the Jayhawks weren’t able to put together a blistering run to counter the Sooners, at least not immediately. Neither team shot the ball well overall, particularly in the second 20 minutes.
The offense never fully cleaned itself up, but the Jayhawks had enough firepower down the stretch to pull out the win.
“Even though we didn’t do a lot of good things, we’ve won a lot of games like tonight over the course of the years,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Kansas finished the game shooting 41.3 percent from the floor and merely 19 percent from three-point range. Oklahoma’s shooting numbers were similar, making 40.3 percent of its shots and 22.7 of shots from deep.
“We dug ourselves a pretty good-sized hole in the first half,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Every time we tried to make a push in the second half … they did a good job of fighting that off.”
Freshman guard Devon Dotson led Kansas in scoring in the win, putting up 16 points on just 4-of-10 shooting, but he was clutch down the stretch by going 7-of-8 from the free throw line. The rest of the team went just 7-of-14 from the charity stripe.
The reigning Big 12 newcomer of the week contributed plenty without scoring too, leading all players with four steals and pulling in five rebounds.
His backcourt mate, fellow freshman Quentin Grimes, finished in double figures for the second game in a row by posting 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
Grimes made one of the biggest non-scoring plays of the game late, hustling for and recovering a loose ball, which he then shoveled off the Dotson for a score.
“That was the best play he made all year, that was a great play,” Self said.
Junior forward Dedric Lawson netted his ninth double-double of the year for the Jayhawks on Wednesday, scoring 13 points while tying his season high in rebounds with 15. While his offensive prowess is vital for Kansas, his versatility is equally important, something that was apparent versus Oklahoma.
In the waning minutes of the game, Kruger called for his players to constantly foul KU junior Udoka Azubuike, the “Poke-a-Doke” strategy the Sooners employed last season in a win over the Jayhawks. With Lawson on the court, Self was able to pull Azubuike off the floor and replace him at the five spot with Lawson, mitigating the foul-shooting troubles.
“I didn’t know that they would go to [that] that early,” Self said.
KU will play its first road game of the Big 12 season on Saturday against Iowa State. The Cyclones knocked off the Oklahoma State Cowboys 69-63 in their opener.
“This will be even better than Arizona State,” Self said in regard to the road atmosphere at Iowa State. “I think that we’ll look forward to doing it and I know we’ll play a much, much improved team.”