Victories over then No. 4-ranked Kentucky on the road and No. 2 Baylor at home in a five-day span has been especially gratifying to fifth-year Kansas senior Landen Lucas.
“I mean, that’s fun. It’s what you come to Kansas for — to play in these big games, back-to-back Top-4 matchups,” said Lucas. The 6-foot-10 forward from Portland, Ore., combined for 18 points and 16 rebounds as Kansas won consecutive games versus Associated Press top-5 foes for the first time since 2008 when the Jayhawks downed No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Memphis in the Final Four.
“We enjoy it, but we know at the end of the day we have a bigger goal so this is just another step toward it,” Lucas said. “Obviously we still have some tough games coming up ahead, but we made it through a really good stretch. We went 2-1 during that (also losing at then No. 18 West Virginia on Jan. 24).
“I think we have a lot to be proud of, but we’ve got to make sure we focus in because we’ve got another tough stretch with Iowa State and at Kansas State.”
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The Jayhawks (20-2, 8-1 Big 12) on Saturday begin a stretch of three games against unranked teams — all teams that played KU tough during previous matchups in recent weeks.
The Jayhawks, who toppled Iowa State 76-72 on Jan. 16 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, will play host to the Cyclones (13-8, 5-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas will then meet Kansas State (15-7, 4-5) at 8 p.m. Monday at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan. Kansas beat K-State 90-88 earlier in the season.
After that, it’s on to Texas Tech (15-7, 3-6) for a 1 p.m. game on Feb. 11 in Lubbock, Texas. The Jayhawks led by five points with eight minutes left before storming to an 85-68 win over the Red Raiders on Jan. 7 at Allen Fieldhouse.
“It’s been a great stretch, but it’s not over yet,” Kansas freshman guard Josh Jackson said after KU’s 73-68 win over Baylor on Wednesday. Kansas beat Kentucky 79-73 last Saturday. “We’ve got a big one Saturday against Iowa State. We’ll spend all week preparing for it.”
Kansas enters the Iowa State game in sole possession of first place in the Big 12. The Jayhawks lead Baylor by one game, West Virginia by two and fourth-place Iowa State by three games.
Jackson scored six points on 3-of-11 shooting with eight rebounds, five assists and four turnovers, while fouling out in 27 minutes in KU’s victory over Iowa State in Ames. Frank Mason led KU with 16 points in that game, while Lucas had 14 points and six rebounds. Iowa State senior point guard Monte Morris had 23 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals for the Cyclones.
“Obviously defend the arc,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of a key to Saturday’s game. “Be able to guard the ball because they are going to play four guards.”
Iowa State senior shooting guard Matt Thomas, who hit 2 of 5 threes and scored six points in 33 minutes in the first meeting, has made 16 of his last 22 threes over the last three games, while averaging 19.3 points per game in that span.
Thomas needs four points to become the 34th Cyclone to reach 1,000 points at Iowa State, joining teammates Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long.The last Iowa State trio of teammates to have 1,000 points in a career were Fred Hoiberg, Julius Michalik and Loren Meyer (1992-95).
“I think he’s a guy who is as good a shooter as there is in the country when he gets a good look,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said of Thomas, who has been bothered by bone spurs in his right foot much of the season.
“I think as a coach you feel it’s going in every time,” Prohm said of Thomas’ shots. “We’ve got to continue to get him shots in transition. It’s hard in halfcourt sometimes because people are sticking to him, but we’ve got to do a good job of moving him around to get him some more looks.”
Kansas has won 11 straight over the Cyclones in Allen Fieldhouse, the last Cyclone win coming in 2005. Overall, KU has won 51 straight games at Allen. And the Jayhawks have won 37 consecutive conference games at home.
“I heard somebody say this one time, and it makes a lot of sense: They’ve got a great coach and they’ve got really, really good players. That has a lot to do with it,” Prohm said of the difficulty for visitors to win at Allen Fieldhouse.
“Then the other part is, Allen Fieldhouse. … The environment there is really good. It’s loud. They (fans) are right on top of you. The major key is Coach Self and the job he does, and his talent level is obviously very good — Jackson, Mason and (Devonté) Graham.”
Thomas has an 0-3 record in Allen Fieldhouse.
“There hasn’t been a tougher place (to play in),” Thomas said. “You watch them play Baylor (Wednesday) and Baylor played a near perfect game, played really well. That last play was a fluke. Their point guard takes his eyes off the ball, and it goes out of bounds (on Baylor’s final possession with KU up three). You have to make those plays late and capitalize on every single one of their mistakes if you want to have a chance to win at Allen Fieldhouse.”
Prohm’s Cyclones will try to slow the Jayhawks as they vie for a 13th-straight Big 12 title.
“I’ve only been in this league two years,” Prohm said. “What they’ve done over there has got to be probably one of the most impressive accomplishments in college basketball and really in sports in general.
“You look back and compare it to the Atlanta Braves years ago. Bobby Cox and those guys won the NL East 10, 12, 14 years in a row (actually 14 years). Regardless of whether they won the World Series or not, whether Kansas won the national championship, their consistency of excellence is really impressive. It’s something that’s hard to imagine that happening especially in a power-five league. They’ve been able to do a great job of taking care of home and having the resiliency and toughness to go win on the road. What makes it tough to play up there is great coaching and great players. They’ve been consistent with that over the years.”
Bragg still out of action
Self said Friday there’s been “no change” in Carlton Bragg’s status entering the Iowa State game. Bragg, a sophomore forward, has been suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules and has missed the last two games.
Young sets decision date
Trae Young, a 6-2 senior guard from Norman (Okla.) North High, will announce his college choice at noon, Feb. 16, at the Norman North gym, he announced Friday on Twitter.
“It’s been a long process, but now it’s time,” Young said on Twitter. Young does not have an official list of finalists but is said to be considering Kansas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.