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big 12 basketball KU, K-State fight for title, just like the good old days Wildcats and Jayhawks are fighting for the title, just like in the good old days.

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at 11:06 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 4:30 p.m.

— An hour after Kansas’ improbable 108-96 overtime survival of Iowa State, Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg had the painful experience of reliving the occasion. A makeshift studio to tape his weekly television show was set up at the free throw line where Elijah Johnson made two with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation.

“Coach, a tough, tough loss in a game it looked like you guys had,” Cyclones play-by-play announcer John Walters opened the show. “The highlights when we come back.”

An Iowa State fan had to be restrained by police as he appeared headed toward Kansas Coach Bill Self after the game.

This Big 12 battle was that intense. Home crowd tempers flared when it appeared Jeff Withey had collected his disqualifying fifth foul late in the regulation, only the call went to Kevin Young. And those clutch Johnson free throws came after a collision under the basket.

No called was made initially, although Niang and Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg thought Johnson had charged. But with bodies on the ground, Niang was then whistled for holding Johnson, sending him to the line.

“The call was the call,” Niang said. “You have to move on.”

The toughest of losses Iowa State, which took a five-point lead with 44 seconds remaining and then got a Kansas miss ended with some ugliness. An over-amped Johnson slammed home a breakaway before the final buzzer, an action that prompted an apology in his opening pre game comments. Kansas players who left the floor arms raised in triumph were booed loudly.

By winning, Kansas remained tied with Kansas State atop the standing at 12-3, but this was the Jayhawks’ most losable remaining game. Nobody else had won at Hilton Coliseum this year, and the Cyclones had rolled up 22 straight in one of the nation’s loudest buildings, one that may have been as edgy as it had ever been.

It wasn’t enough to slow Johnson with 39 points and an effort that ranks with the best by a Kansas player not just in the Bill Self era and beyond — 30 points after halftime, eight in the final 35 seconds of regulation and seven of the first 10 in overtime, on the road against an NCAA Tournament quality opponent.

Want more numbers? Iowa State went 17 of 41 on three-pointers, the most against a Self team, along with the 96.

“You score 96 and 89 against Kansas, you think you can win one,” Hoiberg said.

But Iowa State lost both in overtime, and that’s how close the Cyclones are to playing at the top of the Big 12.

Instead, it’s Kansas and Kansas State shoulder to shoulder, a step ahead of Oklahoma State, and there’s plenty at stake for everybody.

The Jayhawks are playing to extend one of the college basketball’s remarkable streaks. By winning their next two at home against Texas Tech and West Virginia, Kansas will go to Baylor on the season’s final day with an opportunity to finishing no worse than tied for first.

That’s if Kansas State can keep up. The Wildcats travel to Baylor, get TCU at Bramlage and tip off at Oklahoma State about 31/2 hours earlier than Kansas-Baylor.

This position didn’t seem possible some two weeks ago when Kansas was coming off a three-game losing streak, including the embarrassment at TCU.

“We put ourselves in a position where it was going to be very, very difficult,” Self said.

But beating K-State at home to snap the losing streak, then winning at two of league’s the most difficult outposts in Stillwater and Ames, offset the TCU loss.

Still, nothing is given, and the Wildcats find themselves closer to the top this late in the season than they’ve been in ages. Even the 29-victory team of 2010, with Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente, that reached the Elite Eight, landed four games behind Kansas in the standing.

There was a time when most seasons unfolded like this, with KU and K-State scoreboard watching every game.

That period lasted for decades, starting just after World War II. The Big Seven lasted 11 years, and a Kansas team won eight titles.

When Oklahoma State joined in 1958 to make it the Big Eight, the Sunflower dominance grew even more profound. Over the next 20 seasons, the Jayhawks or Wildcats finished first 16 times. These were the days of Tex Winter and Ted Owens, of Jo Jo White and Mike Evans.

No national championship banner was raised in that stretch, but each program advanced to the Final Four twice. The rivalry was so evenly matched that when the teams were invited to the 1988 Midwest Regional it marked the 18th NCAA Tournament for both programs. KU’s edges were the 1952 NCAA title and Wilt Chamberlain’s stay.

But the separation would soon begin and widen. It started with the Jayhawks’ triumph over the Wildcats in Pontiac, Mich., that vaulted them into the Final Four.

Kansas joined the short list of consistently highly ranked programs, and the Wildcats largely fell into dormancy.

Now, they’re on the final lap with history at stake. Kansas and the conference streak, K-State seeking its first conference crown since 1977, and three games to settle the issue.

The tie-breaker would go to KU because of the season sweep. If there’s deadlock with more than two, the teams are slotted by round robin standing. If Oklahoma State beat K-State to create a three-team tie, Kansas would emerge as the conference tournament’s top seed because of a 3-1 record against the other two.

Other riches to consider for a strong finish among the top three contenders: favorable NCAA Tournament seed and a short trip to the Sprint Center to open postseason play.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Self said.

But with an improbable victory, paved by Johnson, who more than doubled his scoring output this season, the Jayhawks took a huge step toward making all happen. And, by the way Self won his 500th career game. After this wild night, the milestone seemed like an afterthought.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/BlairKerkhoff.

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