Thursday, March 4, 2010
Kansas wins Big 12 showdown against Kansas St.
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Wearing another Big 12 championship T-shirt, his teammates' arms around his shoulders, hands patting him on the head, Sherron Collins looked toward the video scoreboard as tears streamed down his face.
His career in Allen Fieldhouse, one of the greatest played inside the storied gym, had come to a close.
"This is it, it's the last one," said Collins, 1 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 for 15 overall in his Phog finale. "I didn't want to get off the court. I wanted it to go on all night, but it couldn't."
Collins returned for his senior season on a pact with center Cole Aldrich, a you-stay-I-stay deal in an effort to win a second national championship in three years together.
Collins guided the Jayhawks to the first step: a Big 12 regular-season championship. Next up is the Big 12 tournament, where Kansas will be the No. 1 seed, and a role as favorites in the mad march to the Final Four in Indianapolis in April.
"This is my final game here, but we're not done playing," Collins told the still-packed crowd after the game. "We've still got some work to do."
Xavier Henry scored 15 of his 19 points in a tight first half and Kansas (28-2, 14-1) wore down Kansas State in a foul-filled game to extend the nation's longest home winning streak to 59 games. The Jayhawks are 32-2 against Kansas State in the Big 12 era and are in position to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Collins got them there. He won't leave Lawrence as the school's career leader in points, assists or steals. But Collins will walk away with more wins than other player in Kansas' distinguished history, 125 and counting, and a special place in the hearts of his teammates, coaches and fans.
"A lot of people love Sherron here," coach Bill Self said.
Kansas State (24-5, 11-4) relied on the guard combination of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente to keep it close while its front line struggled with foul trouble. Clemente had 21 points and Pullen scored 15 of his 20 in the first half, while the five biggest Wildcats combined for 19 points.
Kansas State had just four assists on 20 field goals and shot 7 of 24 in the second half to see its slim hopes for a first conference title in 33 years dashed.
"It's hard to win when you have four assists," coach Frank Martin said. "Kansas did a heck of a job of guarding us. Because of foul trouble and things of that nature, we had some lineups that made it difficult for us to score."
The last time these teams met, it was billed as one of the biggest games in the rivalry's 103-year history. The game matched the hype, with second-ranked Kansas pulling out an 81-79 overtime win at Kansas State's eardrum-bursting Octagon.
Turns out, it was just Round 1 of this rivalry rumble.
The Wildcats reeled off seven straight wins after that loss, wearing out opponents with their relentless style. The Jayhawks had clinched a share of the Big 12 title despite a sluggish loss at Oklahoma State.
You'd have to flip the calendar back to 1958 to find a Sunflower game that meant this much. That was the last time these teams played with both ranked in the top 5, a game in which No. 4 Kansas State and coach Tex Winter took down Wilt Chamberlain and the second-ranked Jayhawks 79-75.
With Wilt's No. 13 looming in the rafters 52 years later, Allen Fieldhouse was juiced like few times before. The Phog shook before the game started, especially after Collins took his tearful bows during a pregame ceremony, and even the pregame video was a decibel or two over the usual roar.
The Wildcats claimed they weren't intimidated, and didn't mind when Martin bluntly told them it was the biggest game since they'd arrived at the Little Apple.
They didn't play like it early. Chucking up wild shots -- Jamar Samuels shot one off the back of the backboard -- and passes to the cheerleaders, Kansas State found itself in a 15-4 hole. At least it was better than last year, when Kansas went up 18-0 before the fans had settled into their seats.
"They outworked us," Pullen said. "They had some shots go their way and made some plays that we didn't make. A few loose balls, a few offensive rebounds -- things that we are normally able to do, we just didn't do. "But, just like last year, the Wildcats clawed their way back.
Following the lead of the ever-calm Pullen, Kansas State whittled away, pulling within 40-36 on Wally Judge's soaring rebound slam just before halftime. The Wildcats kept it up to start the second, tying it at 45 on Clemente's 3-pointer in transition to cap a 7-0 run.
But that was it. Kansas answered with a 12-2 run to go up 57-47, then Collins -- 1 for 10 at the time -- went to work, scoring seven straight points to put the Jayhawks up 66-56. Tyshawn Taylor added a 3-pointer to cap the 15-3 run, but this was Collins' night -- evident by the tears flowing afterward from Aldrich and fellow teammate Brady Morningstar.
"It was emotional all day," said Kansas forward Markieff Morris, who had 10 points and nine rebounds. "He's been our leader, like a big brother. It's going to be tough not seeing him here next year, but he went out with a bang."