On late Saturday afternoon, Kelly Oubre found a seat inside the Allen Fieldhouse media room. Sweat stains were still visible on his shorts. A box score from Kansas’ 68-57 victory over K-State was on a table in front of him.
Oubre looked down at the box score for a second, but even in that moment, less than an hour after another Big 12 win, his focus was already on what lay ahead. In just more than 48 hours, the ninth-ranked Jayhawks would return to Allen Fieldhouse to face No. 15 Iowa State at 8 p.m. Monday. So when a reporter asked Oubre when the Kansas players would begin thinking about Iowa State, he quickly offered a response.
“As of now,” Oubre said. “We owe them.”
Yes, you could call Kansas’ showdown with Iowa State a revenge game. That wouldn’t be inaccurate. On Jan. 17, the Jayhawks suffered an 86-81 loss to Iowa State at Hilton Coliseun for their only Big 12 loss of the season. But Kansas forward Jamari Traylor preferred to phrase it slightly differently on Saturday.
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“A redemption game,” Traylor said.
Whatever the semantics, Monday night’s contest is positioned as a potential pivot point in the Big 12 race.
The first-place Jayhawks, 18-3, enter with a 7-1 conference record and a perfect home mark this season. Iowa State, 16-4, is 6-2 in conference play, tied for second with West Virginia. If Kansas can protect its home court, the Jayhawks will own a two-game lead over Iowa State as both teams hit the halfway point of the conference season.
Big 12 championships are not won on Groundhog Day, of course, but the Jayhawks can take a major step by avenging their only league blemish.
“Our guys will be jacked and ready,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “They made us look foolish many possessions up there in Ames.”
For Kansas the idea of redemption runs a little deeper than payback. On that night in Ames, the Cyclones ran wild, putting up 27 points in transition and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. Iowa State ran on missed baskets, it ran on made baskets — it ran at any opportunity.
The Cyclones, who possess the nation’s seventh-most efficient offense, regularly put opposing defenses on their heels. In an era when the pace of the game has slowed, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has cranked up the tempo to full blast. According to numbers at statistical site KenPom.com, Iowa State features the seventh fastest offense in the country, averaging more than 70 possessions per game.
For a night in Ames, the Jayhawks just weren’t ready for that kind of speed. Still, Self believes some of KU’s wounds were self-inflicted.
So on Saturday afternoon, in the moments after the victory over K-State, Self was simple and direct when asked how KU could combat Iowa State’s transition game.
“We can start by running,” Self deadpanned. “But no, we’ll do something to make sure that we give ourselves an opportunity for them to play five against five, as opposed to three against two and two against one.”
Self, of course, has made a living on making adjustments. In his 12th season at Kansas, he has yet to lose both ends of a home-and-home to a conference opponent. The Cyclones, though, have defeated Kansas in two straight games — the first coming at last year’s Big 12 tournament — and perhaps it’s also worth pointing out that no Big 12 opponent has defeated Kansas three straight times since Iowa State won five straight during 1999-2001.
That history, of course, will have little effect on Monday. For the moment, Self is more interested in some recent history. In the days after Kansas’ loss at Iowa State, the Jayhawks retreated to the film room and cringed at the sight of their defensive lapses.
“Nobody really got back,” Traylor said. “And we gave those guys a ton of easy opportunities. We didn’t really make them work.”
For Kansas, the goal will be simple. On Monday night, the Jayhawks can take another step toward an 11th straight Big 12 championship. But it will start with a simple directive: Get back.
“I think if we eliminate that,” Traylor said, “we’ll have a lot of good chances to win the game.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.