LAWRENCE — Whatever happens in the Kansas locker room at halftime against Oklahoma, the Jayhawks need to bottle it.
For the second time this season, Kansas changed identity at the break and wound up pounding the Sooners 84-62.
Any idea that the eighth-ranked Jayhawks would be caught in a look-ahead with No. 4 Missouri looming in Columbia on Saturday vanished shortly after Allen Fieldhouse fans settled back into their seats after getting popcorn, and in the process the players restored some of Coach Bill Selfs faith.
Im leaving here more excited about our team than when the game started, Self said.
And perhaps a bit relieved.
The Jayhawks were coming off their first league loss, at Iowa State, and they were pushed on their home floor by Texas A&M in the previous game.
Throw in an uneven first half against the Sooners, and suddenly a team thats been firm in its resolve for an eighth straight Big 12 championship stood on wobbly legs.
But Kansas took the second half by the throat, scoring the first nine times it had the ball. Some were artistic, like Jeff Witheys hook shots with his right and left hands. Others were vicious, like a pair of Thomas Robinsons slams.
It all worked and the defense was just as good with a Robinson steal, Withey block, and Travis Relefords tight coverage of everybody he checked.
Sooners Coach Lon Kruger called two time outs before the half was four minutes old.
I wanted to remind our guys to stay with the basics, lets go back to the fundamentals, the things you try to focus on every day in practice, Kruger said. But we gave them too many opportunities.
Tyshawn Taylors three-pointer as the shot clock wound down, one possession after he had fallen hard to the floor and had packed house holding its collective breath, gave the Jayahwks a 59-39 lead with about 11 ½ minutes remaining. Taylor was fine, and KU was well on its way to the rout.
The game wasnt headed in that direction at halftime, when the Kansas lead was 34-31.
But at least it was a lead. At Norman on Jan. 7, Oklahoma led 34-33 at halftime, and Kansas roared to a 22-point advantage before winning by 11.
Then, Releford did much of the damage, scoring a career-best 28 points. Wednesday, he was part of a team effort on both ends of the floor that put this one away.
Robinson, who finished with 20 points and 17 rebounds, was especially focused. If Kansas over the past few games was less than what it expects to be, Robinson symbolized that with some lethargic play. The numbers were slightly down, but it was more than that.
Coach just told me I havent been the player Im capable of being, Robinson said.
Just look at the Iowa State game, Self said.
Best rebounder in the country and he didnt get an offensive rebound, Self said.
Wednesday, Robinson had a double-double in the second half with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Taylor finished with 21 and got five of his six assists in a second half in which the Jayhawks made 20 of 28 shots from the floor.
Oklahoma, which had won at Kansas State on Saturday, wouldnt let the Jayhawks get away in the first half. Kansas opened a 30-19 lead, but a Steven Pledger three-pointer cut the margin to one.
Pledger had 30 against the Wildcats, and 17 Wednesday.
As the game turned into a KU lob pass festival in the second half, minds drifted to Saturdays matchup.
How will Kansas and Missouri defend each other in the frontcourt with Robinson and Withey against Ricardo Ratliffe and Kim English? How much zone will the Tigers play? Oklahoma had some success in the first half with a zone against the Jayhawks.
Taylor admitted to thinking about the Tigers.
Its probably the biggest one we have on our schedule so far, Taylor said. Coach said in the locker room, its something we can start thinking about now.
Both teams will enter the game in a good mindset with Mizzou holding off Texas in Austin on Monday, and the Jayhawks playing their best ball, perhaps in two weeks, in the second half against the Sooners.