Jayhawk Insider: Win over Wildcats reignites Big 12 title hopes
By Mitch George
LAWRENCE, Kan. – We’re taught early in life that sharing with your neighbor is the right thing to do–that it fosters lasting friendships which can carry over to later in life. But among opponents that are separated by less than 90 miles and done battle on the court 291 times previous, a friendship has yet to be forged.
Kansas and Kansas State took the Allen Fieldhouse floor for one of the largest meetings in the history of the rivalry. With a potential league crown at stake; The Wildcats’ first outright Big 12 title, a 15th-consecutive for the Jayhawks. The stakes were high Monday night in Lawrence.
Although they have once previously shared the the conference title at the end of the 2012-13 season, both teams are doing everything in their power to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
With a loss on their home court, the Jayhawks’ hopes for a 22nd Big 12 title would be painfully slim. However, a victory and Kansas could automatically sling-shot itself back into the thick of the league race.
“I know this game meant a lot to a lot of people around us,” redshirt-junior Dedric Lawson said. “They had this game marked off on their calendars to come here and support us beating K-State. The fact that we failed the first time, we just wanted to go in and give those people what they wanted.”
Kansas maintained its chances of winning the title outright with a 64-49 win in Allen Fieldhouse over Kansas State on Monday night, much to the credit of junior forwards Lawson and Mitch Lightfoot.
“When Mitch came in, it almost felt as if I couldn’t take him out,” Self said. “He played a little different defensively. I thought he did a really good job protecting the rim and being active. He certainly had the best game, maybe, since he’s been here.”
As for Lawson, Self praised his intelligence for briefly practicing a new defensive scheme in practice the previous day, which Lawson adeptly implemented against the Wildcats.
Although he’s playing his first season with the Jayhawks, Lawson realized the importance of the in-state rivalry.
“We know what’s expected and that the expectation of coming to Kansas is to win the Big 12 regular season,” Lawson said.
Lawson’s double-double performances have become commonplace, but his 18-point, 14-rebound night headlined Kansas’ efforts in both categories.
Lightfoot, on the other hand, made an impact without drawing attention on the stat sheet. His nine points and five rebounds may not catch the eye on paper, but his three blocks electrified his fans and teammates throughout the game.
“It probably means as much to Mitch or more to play well against K-State maybe more than anyone on our team,” Self said. “Mitch gives us energy off the bench, no question.”
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, the Sunflower Showdown battle meant slightly more to Lightfoot than his teammates. Since Lightfoot was immersed in the rivalry from a young age, the leverage of the rivalry motivated him to contribute a top-tier performance.
“When you come to play against K-State, that is a big rivalry and it means a lot to us,” the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward said.
When asked if he was “feeling it” on the court, Lightfoot simply responded, “Yes, I was feeling it, but I was trying to do what my teammates needed me to do–being in the right place at the right time and making good decisions.”
Despite their 197th all-time victory over Kansas State, the Jayhawks trail in the Big 12 standings to both the Wildcats and Texas Tech. K-State is slated for matchups against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma, while the Red Raiders are due to face Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Iowa State.
Self acknowledged the necessity for his team to win the rest of its regular-season contests.
“I don’t know that I can remember a time where we didn’t control our own destiny,” Self said Monday night.
To round out the season, Kansas plays must-win contests against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor.
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