Nineteen-point halftime leads are supposed to last a little longer.
But the one KU built Monday night with a brilliant first half full of crisp passing, hot shooting and strong rebounding went bye-bye as Oklahoma started to pass with purpose, shoot with warmth and rebound with enthusiasm.
And within 9:07 of the second half, the game was tied and a dogfight ensued.
Oklahoma eventually went ahead by four, 69-65, following a Buddy Hield three-point play with 4:56 left.
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It was as if the Sooners looked at the scoreboard, saw they had turned a 19-point deficit into a four-point lead, and panicked. And it was at that point Kansas, which offered little resistance as Oklahoma roared back, was finally able to relax. Even with their backs suddenly against the wall.
“It’s almost like we had to make it harder on ourselves than it should have been,” KU coach Bill Self said.
It worked out, though. KU outscored OU 20-9 down the stretch to win, 85-78, as Allen Fieldhouse rocked.
The Sooners worked so hard to get ahead, then wilted.
“It was very frustrating,” said Hield, who played high school basketball at Sunrise Christian Academy and scored a game-high 26 points for OU.
Hield led the Sooners’ charge, but contributed to their retreat, too, missing a bunch of shots late. After a 10-for-10 performance against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Hield was 7 of 19 on Monday night.
Hield’s buddy, KU junior and Heights grade Perry Ellis, had 16 points and eight rebounds for the Jayhawks. They were teammates in summer AAU basketball and, Ellis said, still keep in touch.
“We’re definitely still friends, we text every now and then,” said Ellis, who helped Heights win four Class 6A state championships. “I knew from high school that he was going to be a great player. He just kept improving.”
Even thought Oklahoma was able to get a lead on Kansas in the second half, Hield was haunted by the Sooners’ first-half performance, which included 32.4 percent shooting and matador defense that allowed the Jayhawks to shoot 57.6 percent overall and make 9 of 13 three-pointers, including their first eight.
“I’m proud of us fighting back, but we should have done a better job of executing in the first half,” Hield said. “But KU played a great half.”
Kansas, coming off a loss at Iowa State on Saturday night, has endured wild swings of superlative/rotten play frequently this season. This one, though, had the most severe swings yet.
The Jayhawks used a 17-0 run to take a 33-14 first-half lead. And they were on the wrong side of a 25-7 Oklahoma run to start the second half. It’s advisable to bring along some Dramamine when you watch the Jayhawks because they’re a Tilt-O-Whirl of fun.
“I didn’t think we played as bad tonight as we have in some of the halves we’ve had,” Self said. “I just thought we missed some shots and (Oklahoma) played great. We needed to figure out a way to win a close game because we didn’t do it Saturday at Iowa State.
“There are seven or eight teams in (the Big 12) that if they play well are going to be difficult to beat wherever you play them. That’s why I think you’ll see a lot of swings in games like the one you saw tonight.”
KU freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, who have been all over the place this season, played like they just might be one-and-done players after all. Which is both good and bad news for the Jayhawks. But mostly good, especially when they combine for 32 points and 22 rebounds.
Alexander had 13 and 13; Oubre 19 and nine.
Self criticized Alexander for having a low-running motor after the Iowa State game. Against Oklahoma, it appeared the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Alexander had spent some time in the shop being fine tuned.
He was purring Monday night, ferociously attacking the glass and putting up big numbers in only 23 minutes.
Alexander had no beef with Self’s assessment of his play against the Cyclones.
“He’s been doing this since probably before I was born,” Alexander said.
Oubre, meanwhile, is showing flashes of being more than a good player. The word “great” comes to mind when watching him.
He’s active, smooth, smart and he can make shots. Plus, he drew the defensive assignment on Hield for much of the game and more than held his own, though guarding the OU star is a tough gig.
If Alexander and Oubre can be more consistent — and consistency has been a difficult thing to find for the Jayhawks — it makes Kansas a more dimensional team on both ends of the floor.
Neither Ellis nor Jamari Traylor are close to being as physical as Alexander. And Oubre, who took a while to adjust to college basketball, is learning quickly now.
The Jayhawks are coming together when they’re not falling apart. It’s been that kind of season.