Kansas Jayhawks guard Ben McLemore, left, is congratulated by Kansas Jayhawks guard Elijah Johnson in the second half of the game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse. / Denny Medley, USA TODAY Sports
LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Kansas students arrived armed with signs that read "We Still Believe" and "We Shall Overcome," imploring their Jayhawks to avoid their first four-game losing streak since before most of them were born.
Even good college basketball teams can suffer three-game losing streaks during successful seasons. But this was unfamiliar territory for the 13th-ranked Jayhawks, whose season was at a crossroads following their first three-game skid since 2005. Equally unusual was that the opponent, 11th-ranked Kansas State, took the court at Allen Fieldhouse with a higher ranking and sole possession of first place in the Big 12, a league the Jayhawks have won eight straight seasons.
But a Kansas team desperate for a victory made clear almost from opening tip-off that no one should count it out of this wildly unpredictable college basketball season. Five days after its worst first-half offensive performance of the season against lowly TCU, the Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3 Big 12) turned in one of their best in a 83-62 rout before an emotionally charged crowd.
Kansas coach Bill Self felt his team had been "out-toughed" and did not look athletic in any of the consecutive losses to Oklahoma State, TCU and Oklahoma. But he said the losing streak was also no reason to feel that the sky is falling in Lawrence, one of the few college towns where greatness is expected every game, every season.
"I understand it's not forgivable," Self joked about high level of expectations that he has helped maintain the past 10 seasons. "But what we are going through is what 98 or 99 percent of what teams in America go through ... We have been so spoiled here because for so long we have not had these types of stretches. We had not gone through that."
Self knows that if his team plays like it did Monday night, it can be the NCAA tournament threat it had been expected to be before the season. And Kansas State coach Bruce Weber knew his team was playing Kansas at the wrong time because the Jayhawks were smarting from the losses, and focused.
"Last week was a bad week for us," said Kansas center Jeff Withey, who became the school's all-time leader in blocked shots Monday. "True fans will back us up no matter what ... Last week is over."
Last week, then-fifth-ranked Kansas played like it deserved to be unranked. On Monday, 13th-ranked Kansas played like it may be deserving of a No. 5 ranking again by season's end.
Shooting 58.6 percent in the first half, Kansas overwhelmed the Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) with hot shooting and highly efficient, aggressive play. Self's team scored 47 points in the half against a team that had given up an average of 58.3 points a game this season.
Redshirt freshman Ben McLemore, the potential All-American who celebrated his 20th birthday Monday, made 5 of 6 field goal attempts in the half en route to 17 points by halftime. McLemore finished with 30.
Kansas State was hampered by foul trouble in the first half. And the Jayhawks finished the game having dominated the Wildcats in second-chance points, 19-2, turning a game into a 40-minute catharsis for a wounded program.
The Jayhawks were glad to avoid their first four-game losing streak since dropping eight in a row in 1989, the last year they also lost back-to-back home games. They had been reeling after three consecutive losses to unranked teams â?? including TCU, which had an RPI of 236 â?? for the first time since 1988, the same year they wound up winning the national title.
With four senior starters and a freshman who ranks among the nation's most talented players, there's no reason to dash Kansas' hopes in a wide-open national title race. But the Big 12, while not among the nation's very best conferences, still features several capable, NCAA tournament-caliber teams that will complicate the league title race for Kansas.
Later this month, the Jayhawks, last year's national runner-ups, must travel to Oklahoma State and Iowa State, two schools expected at the moment to be in the 68-team NCAA tournament.
By the middle of the second half, Withey threw down a resounding right-handed dunk that ignited the crowd. Withey, who was also fouled, flexed his muscles, something his team did all night.
Kansas State, in the midst of an impressive season under first-year coach Weber, was overmatched from the start against a desperate team that has now stabilized its season, remaining focused on larger goals next month.
As Withey concluded, "We see ourselves as one of the best teams in the nation."
Follow Eric Prisbell on Twitter @EricPrisbell
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Read the original story: Kansas Jayhawks end skid with impressive rout of Kansas State Wildcats