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Sunflower shakeup: Kansas in unexpected spot as K-State awaits Kansas meets rival in an unexpected position

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, at 10:57 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at 5:19 p.m.

No. 13 Kansas State at No. 5 Kansas

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence

Records: KSU 18-4, 8-2 Big 12; KU 19-4, 7-3

Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM, KWLS, 107.9-FM; KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: ESPN, Ch. 32

No. 13 Kansas State at No. 5 Kansas

PKansas St.HtYrPtsReb
FShane Southwell6-6Jr.7.93.9
FJordan Henriquez6-11Sr.4.74.2
GRodney McGruder604Sr.15.05.3
GWill Spradling6-2Jr.8.3x-2.7
GAngel Rodriguez5-11So.9.9x-4.7

x-assists

Kansas State (18-4, 8-2): The Wildcats enter Monday’s game an unusual position: Assuming they pass the Jayhawks in the new national polls, they will play Kansas as the higher-ranked team for the first time since 1982. K-State enters the game as one of the hottest teams in the Big 12, winning four straight. Expect Thomas Gipson to continue coming off the bench despite outplaying Henriquez recently. Coach Bruce Weber likes the chemistry created by Henriquez starting, and Henriquez is a better matchup against Jeff Withey. Martavious Irving has scored 10 points in three straight games. McGruder averaged 20 points last week.

PKansasHtYrPtsReb
FKevin Young6-8Sr.7.56.7
CJeff Withey7-0Sr.13.08.2
GTravis Releford6-6Sr.11.93.7
GBen McLemore6-5Fr.16.35.4
GElijah Johnson6-4Sr.9.3x-4.7

Kansas (19-4, 7-3): In the span of 10 days, Kansas has gone from the No. 2 team in the country and a sure-fire Final Four contender to a team that suffered one of the program’s worst three-game stretches in 25 years. Maybe Kansas was never that good. And it’s likely the Jayhawks aren’t as bad as they’ve shown, either. After Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma, KU didn’t have much time to ponder its fate. Kansas must win tonight to avoid falling two games behind rival K-State in the Big 12 standings. On Jan. 22, the Jayhawks emerged from Bramlage Coliseum with a 59-55 victory. It was the kind of gritty win that became Kansas’ signature. After three straight losses, KU is searching for that old mojo.

RPIs as of Sunday: K-State 23, KU 10.

— From a cold and calculated standpoint, Kansas coach Bill Self has a pretty good idea what Monday night’s Sunflower Showdown could mean for his careworn troops. After a loss to Oklahoma on Saturday — a day that marked KU’s first three-game losing streak in eight years — the Jayhawks (19-4 and 7-3 in the Big 12) dropped one game behind Kansas State (19-4, 8-2) in the Big 12 standings.

“If they were to defeat us,” Self said, “they’d have a two-game lead, and (it would) put us behind the eight-ball.”

That’s true, of course. But after a demoralizing week that slalomed between frustration and shock, it could be a challenge for Self to get his team in the right frame of mind for what could be a season-defining night. The Jayhawks probably can’t afford a loss at home to Kansas State if they want to win their ninth straight Big 12 title.

For now, Self would like to take the long view. His program has been in similar situations before, even during its run of Big 12 championships. And more than anything, Kansas just needs a win.

“Does it surprise me that we’re in a dogfight?” Self said. “No, not at all.”

Self says he never bought into the conventional wisdom that KU would waltz to another conference crown. Maybe he didn’t envision suffering three losses in a row, but if you told him that KU would be 19-4 on Feb. 11, Self probably would have thought that sounded about right.

“This talk that people had, the whole deal was, who’s gonna finish second?” Self said. “I never felt that at all.”

After KU’s loss to Oklahoma on Saturday, senior guard Elijah Johnson conceded that the Jayhawks had lost a degree of focus early in the conference season.

“I don’t think we relaxed as a team,” Johnson said. “I think we took a little bit of time off. A little more time off than we should have. And it was setting up some steps for us to step backward. And we didn’t realize it.

“So, I don’t think we relaxed that much. But we definitely relaxed a little.”

Some of that focus, Johnson said, came back after the Jayhawks went through a night of shame at TCU last week. But now comes a chapter in the Sunflower rivalry that, all things considered, hasn’t been seen in a generation.

Consider: Before Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma, Kansas had experienced just four losing streaks of three or more games since the 1983-84 season, Larry Brown’s first year in Lawrence. Now the Jayhawks’ run of eight straight Big 12 titles appears in some unexpected peril. And another KU loss, to K-State at Allen Fieldhouse no less, would be a bitter pill for the Jayhawks to swallow.

“I think the crowd will do a great job of getting us jacked back up,” Self said. “And Big Monday always helps. And playing a rival always helps, so I think we’ll play with great energy Monday.”

Of course, from a cold and calculated perspective, it’s hard to know what to make of Kansas right now. Can the Jayhawks be close to the same team that handled Kansas State 59-55 at Bramlage Coliseum on Jan. 22? Or will they be the group mired in an extended offensive slump?

“I don’t know where we are,” Self said, “but it seems like to me, we’re missing a lot of shots that other teams aren’t missing.”

A statement victory in front of a packed Fieldhouse could do plenty to resuscitate KU’s title hopes — and stabilize the Jayhawks’ fleeting confidence. But if Self expected a dogfight, KU still has to prove it can emerge from the fray.

“Anything can happen,” Self said. “But we’re gonna have to play our best ball of the conference season to have a chance to win it.”

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