LAWRENCE — There would be no letdown Monday for the nation’s new top-ranked team.
Kansas basketball clobbered Oklahoma State 83-58 at Allen Fieldhouse, an outcome that extended the Jayhawks’ winning streak to 12 games. Earlier Monday, KU was unveiled as the No. 1-ranked team in both AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches polls, and it certainly justified that status against the Cowboys.
"Damn," remarked OSU coach Mike Boynton at the outset of his postgame news conference, "they’re good."
KU earned a 64-61 road victory at then-No. 1 Baylor last Saturday. That outcome locked those two squads atop the Big 12 standing with four games remaining, and the Jayhawks held serve in their first shot at an encore.
Udoka Azubuike, who starred in the victory over the Bears, scored 19 points and corralled 16 rebounds to pace the Jayhawks against the Cowboys. Four other KU players reached double-figure scoring outputs — Ochai Agbaji (15 points), Devon Dotson (11), Christian Braun (10) and David McCormack (10).
"Being No. 1 again, it’s actually just a number to me," Azubuike said. "We’ve still got to go out there and play and play basketball. I’m not really worried about the number. I’m worried more about the team right now."
The Jayhawks (25-3, 14-1 Big 12) led 35-25 at the break, smothering the overmatched Cowboys (14-14, 4-11) to a 32.3% shooting clip in the opening 20 minutes. OSU missed its first six 3-point attempts in falling into a double-digit hole.
KU, meanwhile, shot just 34.4% in the first period but went 8 of 9 from the free-throw line, including a 4-for-4 effort by Azubuike, a career 40.6% shooter from the stripe. Azubuike, the reigning Big 12 player of the week, had eight points and 11 rebounds before halftime.
"It was kind of rough at first, starting to get going and all that," Agbaji said. "But the coaches, they did a good job getting us pumped up for the game, getting us ready. We just have to come into this game with a lot more focus because we’ve just got to finish out the rest of this conference season."
If the Jayhawks distanced themselves in the first half, it didn’t take them long to lap the Cowboys in the second.
Leading by seven just two minutes into the final frame, KU authored a 16-2 run that sank the 15½-point underdog visitors. Azubuike kick-started the rally with a put-back dunk, Agbaji’s traditional three-point play and a 3-pointer book-ended a layup by OSU’s Isaac Likekele, and Isaiah Moss hit his own 3 to push the Jayhawk lead to 46-30.
That’s when Dotson, the Big 12’s leading scorer, shook his personal 1-for-9 shooting start. The sophomore point guard hit a pair of free throws after taking an elbow to the face thrown by OSU’s Cameron McGriff, then converted an agile layup through contact and made the subsequent try at the stripe to create a 21-point lead, 51-30, with 14:06 left.
McGriff ended the stretch with a jumper, but an Agbaji layup revved up another lopsided Jayhawk run, this time of the 13-2 variety. Azubuike went 2 of 2 from the free-throw line to cap that rally and give the Jayhawks a 30-point lead, 64-34, with 10:49 left.
From there — truthfully, much earlier — the ball was in Baylor’s court. The No. 2-ranked Bears will try to keep pace when they play host to Kansas State at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Waco, Texas.
"You just can’t let the fatigue get in your head at all. If you don’t think about it then it won’t really bother you," Braun said. "We came out a little slow, but starters did a really good job of picking it up. After that they knew that if they got up big then they got a chance to rest, so they did a good job of getting a big lead."
Azubuike finished Monday’s game 7 for 8 from the free-throw line, part of a 17-for-20 showing there for the Jayhawks collectively. KU more than turned around its shooting fortunes in the second half, hitting 53.1% of its field goal attempts in the period.
McGriff's 16 points led the way for the Cowboys, who finished the game with a 38.5% shooting clip against the nation’s top statistical defense.
Self said he believes the Jayhawks "earned" their No. 1 ranking but added he watched San Diego State and Gonzaga both play and lose Saturday, and had either of those teams won, Self would’ve been "OK" with someone else receiving the top spot.
"I think that we put ourselves in a pretty good position that if we take care of business, and that still remains to be seen, that we’re going to be in a favorable spot from a seeding standpoint," Self said. "But we’re still a long way away from taking care of business. You saw what happened (to top teams) Saturday. That could obviously happen again this Saturday. So we’ve got to stay on top of it."
KU’s season continues with a 12:30 p.m. Saturday rematch with K-State at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan. It will be the first Sunflower Showdown since the 81-60 victory for the Jayhawks on Jan. 21 in Lawrence, an outcome marred by a late-game brawl that resulted in the suspensions of four players.
"They’re emotionally tired," Self said of his players. "A lot of teams are tired this time of year, but we’ll take off (Tuesday) and then it’ll remain to be seen what we do on Wednesday. We’ll do something on Wednesday, but Dot and Doke and Marcus (Garrett) and Och, I may sit them on Wednesday too … or just (have them) shoot maybe. But we’ve got to be prepared going to Manhattan on Saturday."