One by one, the glittering Big 12 championship trophies were paraded into Allen Fieldhouse, set upon a series of tables that these days stretch nearly the full length of the court.
Bill Self proceeded to nestle No. 13 right in front.
“It’s 13 in a row, but tonight shouldn’t be about 13,” he said after the third-ranked Jayhawks pulled away in the second half to beat TCU 87-68 on Wednesday night, clinching at least a share of yet another Big 12 title. “This should be about these guys first.”
The streak dating to Self’s second season coaching in Lawrence matches the Division I record of 13 straight league titles UCLA set in the 1960s and ‘70s. To put it into perspective, Kansas has not failed to win a share of the Big 12 since the 20-year-old freshman Josh Jackson was 8.
Frank Mason III led the Jayhawks (25-3, 13-2) with 20 points. Devonte Graham had 17 points and seven assists, Jackson had 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Carlton Bragg Jr. scored 15 points off the bench as Kansas cruised to its NCAA-leading 60th conference title.
Kansas can clinch the outright title with a victory at Texas on Saturday.
“People here will take it for granted a lot, which is fine,” Self said. “But there’s a lot of places – we won the Big Ten back-to-back years at Illinois and there was 5,000 people who greeted us at the airport. Here we got a hat and a T-shirt.”
Alex Robinson had 15 points for the Horned Frogs (17-11, 6-9), who have lost four straight and still have never won in Allen Fieldhouse. Jaylen Fisher added 11 points and JD Miller had 10.
As the final seconds ticked away, Self congratulated his assistant coaches on the bench, and the Jayhawks donned white championship hats. Jackson had trouble tucking his over his bushy hair, but all that did was add to the festive atmosphere inside the Jayhawks’ storied arena.
“I’m more of a type of guy that likes to win than do anything else, or have any individual success,” Jackson said, “so I’m pretty happy with our season right now.”
Jackson had a scary moment in the first half when he landed awkwardly on his right ankle, which he had tweaked in practice. He went to the locker room for a few minutes but soon returned.
“It was still kind of weak,” he said, “but I was OK.”
Just like in their first meeting in Fort Worth, when the Horned Frogs gave Kansas everything it could handle most of the way, this one was a nip-and-tuck matchup well into the second half.
The Jayhawks’ superior guard play eventually opened a gap.
It began after TCU had closed to 49-47 on a basket by Miller with about 16 minutes left. The Jayhawks answered moments later when Mason lobbed a pass to Jackson and the springy freshman forward – showing no signs that his ankle was still bothering him – threw it down for a dunk.
The play touched off eight straight points that allowed Kansas to pry open a game in which nobody had led by more than five. And when the Jayhawks ripped off another run a few minutes later, the crowd inside the Phog began to sense another championship.
“They seemed to get every loose ball, deflection, rebound in the second half,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon lamented, “and that’s where it got away from us.”
The dagger came when Svi Mykhailiuk curled in a three-pointer from the corner with just over 3 minutes left, giving Kansas a 78-64 lead and allowing the celebration to begin.
One that has become oh-so common over the past 13 years.
“I think every year was special,” said Mason, who has been a part of four titles. “I’m just glad I was able to be a part of all those. I’m just proud of my teammates, my coaching staff and the fans for the unbelievable energy they bring every single night.”