On late Saturday afternoon, Kelly Oubre found a seat inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room. Sweat stains were still visible on his shorts. A box score from Kansas’ 68-57 victory over K-State lay on a table in front of him.
Oubre looked down at the box score for a second, but even in this moment, less than an hour after another Big 12 win, his focus was already pushing to what lay ahead on Monday night. In just more than 48 hours, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks would return to Allen Fieldhouse to face No. 15 Iowa State at 8 p.m. Monday. So when a reporter asked Oubre when the Kansas players would begin thinking about Iowa State, he quickly offered up a response.
“As of now,” Oubre said. “We owe them.”
Yes, you could call Kansas’ showdown with Iowa State a revenge game. That wouldn’t be inaccurate. On Jan. 17, the Jayhawks suffered an 86-81 loss to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseun, their only Big 12 loss of the season. But on Saturdar, Kansas forward Jamari Traylor preferred to phrase it slightly different.
“A redemption game,” Traylor said.
Whatever the semantics, Monday night’s contest is positioned as a potential pivot point in the Big 12 race. The first-place Jayhawks, 18-3, enter with a 7-1 conference record and a perfect home mark this season. Iowa State, meanwhile, stands at 6-2 in conference play, tied for second with West Virginia. If Kansas can protect its home court, the Jayhawks will own a two-game lead over Iowa State as both teams hit the halfway point of the conference season. Big 12 championships are not won on Feb. 2, of course, but the Jayhawks can take a major step by avenging their only league blemish.
“Our guys will be jacked and ready,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They made us look foolish many possessions up there in Ames.”
For Kansas, though, the idea of redemption runs a little deeper than payback. On that night in Ames, the Cyclones ran wild, putting up 27 points in transition and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. Iowa State ran on missed baskets; the Cyclones ran on makes; they ran at any opportunity.
The Cyclones, who possess the nation’s seventh-most efficient offense, regularly put opposing defenses on their heels. In an era where the pace of the game has slowed, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has cranked up the tempo to full-blast. According to numbers at statistical site KenPom.com, Iowa State features the seventh fastest offense in the country, averaging more than 70 possessions per game.
For a night in Ames, the Jayhawks just weren’t ready for that kind of speed. Still, Self believes some of the Jayhawks’ wounds were self-inflicted.
So on Saturday afternoon, in the moments after the victory over K-State, Self was simple and direct when asked how KU could combat Iowa State’s transition game.
“We can start by running,” Self deadpanned. “But no, we’ll do something to make sure that we give our self an opportunity for them to play five against five, as opposed to three against two and two against one.”
Self, of course, has made a living on making adjustments. In his 12th season at Kansas, Self has yet to lose both legs of a home-and-home to a conference opponent. The Cyclones, though, have defeated Kansas in two straight games — the first coming at last year’s Big 12 tournament — and perhaps it’s also worth pointing out that no Big 12 opponent has defeated Kansas three straight times since Iowa State won five straight from 1999-2001.
That history, of course, will have little effect on Monday. For the moment, Self is must more interested in some more recent history. In the days after Kansas’ loss at Iowa State, the Jayhawks retreated to the film room and cringed at the sight of their defensive lapses.
“Nobody really got back,” Traylor said. “And we gave those guys a ton of easy opportunities. We didn’t really make them work.”
For Kansas, the goal will be simple. On Monday night, the Jayhawks can take another step toward an 11th straight Big 12 championship. But it will start with a simple directive: Get back.
“I think if we eliminate that,” Traylor said, “we’ll have a lot of good chances to win the game.”
No. 15 Iowa State at No. 9 Kansas
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence
Records: ISU 16-4, 6-2 Big 12; KU 18-3, 7-1
Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM
No. 15 Iowa State at No. 9 Kansas
Iowa State (16-4, 6-2): After defeating Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 17, the Cyclones have gone 3-1, dropping a road game at Big 12 bottom-feeder Texas Tech. Iowa State has been a different team on the road in Big 12 play. The Cyclones are just 1-2 on the road in conference play. Iowa State continues to have one of the nation’s most dangerous offensive units. The Cyclones rank seventh nationally in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.17 points per possession. Iowa State can score from all five spots on the floor, and in the first matchup with Kansas, junior big man Jameel McKay came off the bench and finished with 11 points. But the Cyclones’ defense can be vulnerable. After 20 games, they rank 115th nationally in defensive efficiency. Iowa State has won two straight against Kansas, counting last season’s victory in the Big 12 tournament. If the Cyclones win tonight, they will become the first Big 12 team to beat Kansas three straight times in the Bill Self era. The last Big 12 team to beat KU three straight: Iowa State, which won five straight against Kansas during 1999-2001.
Kansas (18-3, 7-1): Sophomore wing Brannen Greene struggled to find consistent playing time during the non-conference slate, but he’s been an offensive weapon during conference play. After drilling three of four from three-point range against K-State on Saturday, Greene is shooting 61.9 percent on threes in eight Big 12 games. For the season, Greene is shooting 50 percent (27 of 54) from long distance, which is close to a record pace at Kansas. The KU record for season three-point percentage is 50.5, set by Kirk Hinrich in 2000-01. While KU’s offense is playing better, the Jayhawks’ defense has tightened up as well. After holding K-State to just 33.3 percent shooting Saturday, Kansas has limited its last four opponents (Oklahoma, Texas, TCU and K-State) to a combined 35.8 percent shooting from the floor. As a result, the Jayhawks now rank 29th nationally in defensive efficiency. Kansas also has 19 blocked shots in its last two games. Entering tonight’s game, the Jayhawks have won nine straight against Iowa State at Allen Fieldhouse.
RPI as of Sunday: KU 1, ISU 12.