Wayne Simien wasn’t worried about the time. And judging by the 16,300 fans that stayed an extra hour at Allen Fieldhouse, neither was anybody else.
At 10:51 Wednesday — on a school night, no less — Simien grabbed a microphone and began the Senior Day speech he’d been rehearsing for years.
“Get comfortable,” the Kansas forward said, “because I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.”
Funny, the same day that Simien had fantasized about was the one Jayhawk fans had been dreading the most.
After four years of winning titles, hoisting trophies and breaking records, one of the most glorified senior classes in KU history played its final game at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday.
Simien scored 25 points and grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds in Kansas’ 72-65 victory over Kansas State — a win that gave Kansas a share of the Big 12 title.
Still, even more than the game itself, Wednesday was about saying farewell to a group of players who were instrumental in creating some of the fondest memories in the history of KU’s storied program.
“Losing those guys will be a big void,” KU coach Bill Self said. “The program will go on and we’ll continue to be good. But this is a special group. You don’t have guys like this year in and year out.”
Cheerleaders threw flowers at seniors Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee as the players were introduced with their parents prior to the game. And nearly every fan stuck around after the final horn sounded to hear the seniors address the crowd.
Simien’s speech lasted 25 minutes, and the other three spoke at length, too. Each player was brought to tears. Miles, trying to lighten the mood, even walked to midcourt to hand Lee a Kleenex during his speech.
“It’s a real emotional thing,” said Miles, who had 12 points and seven assists. “You can’t help but get choked up when you’re talking about the people near and dear to you. Any man would cry.”
By defeating the Wildcats, Kansas’ seniors improved their career record to 109-25 — including a 56-3 mark at Allen Fieldhouse. Miles, Lee, Simien and Langford have won Big 12 titles in three of their four seasons at KU.
Kansas is 22-4 overall and 12-3 in league play. Kansas State, which got 17 points from Jeremiah Massey, fell to 15-11 and 5-10.
Three of KU’s four seniors scored in double figures Wednesday: Langford also scored 12 points, and Lee made three three-pointers for nine points.
“It was good going out with a big win, against a rival in our last game here,” Simien said. “I couldn’t have planned it better myself.”
Kansas couldn’t have looked any better in the early going Wednesday. Kansas State attacked the Jayhawks with a zone defense, and KU responded by hitting four of its first five three-pointers and taking a 20-14 lead with 10 minutes, 3 seconds remaining before halftime.
Suddenly, though, Kansas’ shots stopped falling. The Jayhawks went the next 4 minutes without scoring and allowed the Wildcats to pull within 20-18. Self said the pageantry surrounding Senior Day had his players out of sorts.
“The guys were distracted,” Self said.
It was 24-22 when KU finally got a spark from the player it needed one from the most — sophomore J.R. Giddens.
Giddens, who had missed 15 of his previous 17 shots from beyond the three-point arc, swished a three-pointer from the right wing that extended KU’s cushion to 27-22. The shot came after Giddens nearly missed the entire backboard on his first attempt.
“He showed some guts shooting that second one after the way he shot his first one,” Self said. K-State’s Justin Williams countered with a baseline jumper on the other end, and Giddens responded with a 17-footer that made it 29-24. The Wildcats failed to score on their ensuing possession, and Lee made them pay with a three-pointer from the left corner.
In just 2 minutes, KU had extended a two-point advantage to eight points. The score was 32-26 at intermission.
Simien gave KU a 35-28 lead early in the second half by converting on a three-point play. Cartier Martin scored for K-State on the other end, but a three-pointer by Lee ignited a 7-0 run that put the Jayhawks ahead 42-30.
The Wildcats pulled within 47-41 when Lance Harris stole the ball from Sasha Kaun and went coast to coast for a dunk. But consecutive baseline jumpers from Simien put Kansas back up by double digits with about 10 minutes remaining.
Simien scored 10 of his 25 points from the free-throw line. His 20 rebounds were three more than his previous career high of 17.
“It wasn’t the most beautiful game but we got it done,” Lee said. “We’ve got a share of the Big 12 title, and that was our goal.”
2004-05 Big 12 standings
1. (tie) Oklahoma
NCAA second round
1. (tie) Kansas
NCAA first round
3. Oklahoma State
NCAA Sweet 16
4. Texas Tech
NCAA Sweet 16