Kansas is less than 50 miles from the Sprint Center, home of the Big 12 Tournament. Iowa State is more than 200 miles away. But Jayhawks coach Bill Self believes his fan base will be outnumbered when the teams meet in the conference championship game on Saturday.
“I’ll bet you they have 70 percent of the building,” Self said.
Two reasons for this: Fans of the Cyclones annually swarm to Kansas City to take in the event, and Iowa State came out of the first semifinal.
“When you play in that first game, you can hustle tickets off the team that didn’t win,” Self said. “They’re pros at hustling tickets in Kansas City. This will be the first time in a long time we probably won’t have a comparable home court.”
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The 23rd Big 12 Tournament championship will match the most frequent winner against the most perfect one.
The Jayhawks have won 11 titles. Iowa State is second on the list with four, and the fifth-seeded Cyclones have never lost a title game.
“Our guys don’t know that, unless you tell them,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “I’m not going to tell them.”
The teams have met only once, with Iowa State topping Kansas for the 2015 championship. This will be the seventh year either KU or Iowa State will win the Big 12 Tournament.
The teams won in contrasting fashion in Friday’s semifinals.
Offense hummed for third-seeded Kansas (25-8) in its 88-74 victory over West Virginia. KU hit 52.4 percent from the floor and was led by Dedric Lawson’s 24 points.
The early catalyst was freshman guard Quentin Grimes, who hit all five three-point attempts in the first half, including a four-point play late that turned a deficit into a lead.
West Virginia was playing its third game in as many days and was attempting to become the first No. 10 seed to reach the final since Missouri in the inaugural Big 12 Tournament in 1997. The Mountaineers (14-20), had defeated Oklahoma and league co-champion Texas Tech but ran out of steam against Kansas.
Iowa State got past No. 1 seed Kansas State 63-59 in a tense, defensive contest. Guard Marial Shayok hit three-pointers on successive late possessions to tie the game and put Iowa State ahead for good.
The title game will have no bearing on NCAA Tournament inclusion. Both teams are safely in. The Jayhawks have been projected as a No. 4 seed, the Cyclones in the 6-7 range. The winner could jump up a line.
In the regular-season series, the teams protected their home floors. The Cyclones ran past Kansas 77-60 on Jan. 5 in Ames. Marial Shayok had 24 points for Iowa State.
In Lawrence on Jan. 21, the Jayhawks overcame a five-point halftime deficit to defeat the Cyclones 80-76. Dedric Lawson had one of his best games of the season with 29 points and 15 rebounds.
The Cyclones (22-11) lost five of their final six regular-season games to fall out of contention for the championship but now have a chance to win a trophy, probably in front of a pro-Iowa State crowd.
“This is what you want to be part of,” Prohm said. “You’re playing the elite program in our league. Iowa State and Kansas, ESPN, that should be fun.”