Kansas had an opportunity to win its fifth consecutive outright Big 12 regular-season title last weekend, but it had to settle for a tie with archrival Kansas State.
There will be none of that on Saturday at the Sprint Center, where the latest chapter of the Sunflower Showdown will determine the Big 12 conference tournament champion.With Kansas State (27-6) losing 76-70 to then-No. 13 Oklahoma State last Saturday, Kansas (28-5) already clinched a share of its ninth consecutive regular-season Big 12 title before its regular-season finale against Baylor started. The seventh-ranked Jayhawks, though, finished with the same 14-4 conference mark as the Wildcats after getting blown out 81-58 -- their most lopsided defeat in seven seasons.The result gave 11th-ranked Kansas State its first conference championship since 1976-77 when it played in the Big Eight."It doesn't feel like we've won it at all. We tied Kansas State," first-team All-Big 12 center Jeff Withey said before the tournament. "It's cool to win, obviously. To win nine in a row is huge. But it just stinks to lose."Kansas, though, could be in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament if it can win its third straight. The top-seeded Jayhawks defeated Texas 91-63 on Thursday -- their most lopsided conference tournament victory in 11 years -- then beat Iowa State for the third time this season in Friday's semifinal, 88-73.Freshman forward Perry Ellis stepped in for an injured Kevin Young (ankle) and scored a season-best 23 points to help Kansas advance to its 10th Big 12 tournament title game -- and first since winning its second straight in 2011."(Ellis) did a great job of finishing dump-downs. Sometimes we got caught out of position," Cyclones big man Georges Niang said. "We weren't expecting that."Kansas, though, knew exactly what its intentions were before arriving in Kansas City earlier this week."Our goal was to come win the Big 12 title, no matter who we play," said Travis Releford, a senior guard.Kansas, which was knocked out in the semifinal round last season, will try to add to its record total of eight Big 12 tournament titles. The Jayhawks are 8-0 in this event versus Kansas State after defeating them 72-64 in the 2010 championship.That was the Wildcats' only appearance in the Big 12 tournament title game.Kansas' dominance in this rivalry hasn't been limited to tournament play, as it's won 31 of 34 regular-season meetings since the 1996-97 season. The Jayhawks improved to 23-2 at Bramlage Coliseum with a 59-55 victory on Jan. 22, then ended a season-worst three-game skid with an 83-62 home win over the Wildcats on Feb. 11.Kansas State has not forgotten."It's definitely a motivation to play and compete against them and have a chance to win this Big 12," said point guard Angel Rodriguez, who helped the Wildcats avenge last Saturday's defeat with 17 points, six assists and three steals in Friday's 68-57 semifinal victory.Kansas State's chances of securing its first conference tournament title since winning the Big Eight in 1980 would likely improve if Rodney McGruder can have another big game. The first-team All-Big 12 pick has 49 points and 16 rebounds in the tournament.McGruder averaged 16.5 points and 4.5 boards in the regular season versus Kansas.Jayhawks leading scorer Ben McLemore finished with a season high-tying six 3-pointers and 30 points in the last matchup with the Wildcats, helping Kansas win its fourth in a row in this series. The redshirt freshman has a team-best 34 points in the tournament, with six 3s in 11 attempts.Kansas is going for its sixth Big 12 tournament title in eight years.