LAWRENCE, Kan. - The ball swung to the wing and Andrew Wiggins set his feet. It was the final minutes at Allen Fieldhouse on Monday night, and Kansas was close to clinching a share of its 10th straight Big 12 Championship.
Ten straight. It's a dizzying feat in the modern era of college basketball. But in this moment, as the Jayhawks led by just five points, and the anxiety began to grow, nobody was really thinking about the streak. Well, that's not quite right. Probably everybody inside Allen Fieldhouse was thinking about the number 10.
In one sense, this was what this whole Andrew Wiggins-led experiment was all about. The Jayhawks lost all five starters off last year's team - and the program's five leading scorers as well. So what did Bill Self do? He simply added the most heralded recruiting class in school history, and now his Jayhawks were going to win another conference title.
So here was Wiggins, lining up his feet, stepping into a three-pointer that could give the Jayhawks an eight-point lead and ice the victory with more than two minutes left. The shot went down, of course. Inside Allen Fieldhouse, they usually do.
No. 5 Kansas 83, Oklahoma 75.
The Jayhawks, 22-6 and 13-2 in the Big 12, can win the Big 12 Championship outright with a victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Nearly nine years ago, on March 2, 2005, the streak began in earnest. Bill Self clinched his first title at Kansas. Forward Wayne Simien savored senior night by speaking for more than 30 minutes after the game. And a core of freshmen that would grow to be seniors on Self's 2008 NCAA championship team barely played.
"We like to be known as winners," then senior guard Aaron Miles said after the game.
On Saturday night, it was the latest generation of Kansas leading the way. Wiggins finished with 15 points, including 10 during Kansas' second half. Junior guard Naadir Tharpe broke out of a recent scoring slump with 19 points and five assists.
In the moments after the game, Tharpe stood near half-court, waving his arms to the crowd as the Kansas crowded chanted "10 straight, 10 straight." The crowd stuck around for a party, and Bill Self exited into the Allen Fieldhouse tunnel by flashing 10 fingers to the fans in the east side of Allen Fieldhouse.
Just two days earlier, Kansas had flashed its A-game in an 85-54 rout of second-place Texas. The Jayhawks had pieced together their most complete performance of the season, a blend of highlight-driven offense and lockdown defense, and it was easy to imagine Kansas using Monday night as another Big 12 coronation. The Jayhawks, of course, would only have a share of the title with a victory. But with another home against Texas Tech coming next week, KU didn't seem to be into the sharing stuff.
Late on Saturday night, Self wasn't so sure. He didn't want to concede that Kansas was rolling - not yet, anyway. Just two weeks ago, the Jayhawks couldn't escape K-State with a victory. And this was still the same team that needed a last-second bucket to win at Texas Tech.
"There's a lot that needs to happen for us to go on a roll," Self said.
Fast forward to Monday night. Midway through the second half, Kansas trailed Oklahoma 58-54. The Jayhawks had led 43-33 at halftime after a late run in the opening 20 minutes. But now that lead was gone.
Maybe this is what Self meant. For a moment, the Big 12 title streak was on the back-burner. Boos were echoing through Allen Fieldhouse. And the Jayhawks were just looking for a run.
It came in bits and pieces: a bucket from Jamari Traylor, an off-balance jumper from Tharpe. And then, moments later, Wiggins capped an 11-3 run with an old-fashioned three-point play with 7:12 left.
For a moment, breathing room.
Kansas had opened Big 12 Conference play with a gritty 90-83 victory at Oklahoma on Jan. 8. The performance had been a turning point, marked by a hustle play from Selden in the second half.