The mantra at Kansas is “faces change, expectations don’t.”
Something else that doesn’t change? Oklahoma losing in Allen Fieldhouse.
Dedric Lawson had 13 points and 15 rebounds, Kansas’ young backcourt made enough crucial plays when it mattered, and the fifth-ranked Jayhawks began pursuit of their 15th consecutive Big 12 title by holding off the No. 23 Sooners 70-63 on Wednesday night.
Devon Dotson added 16 points and fellow freshman Quentin Grimes had 14 for Kansas (12-1, 1-0), which survived a nervy final minute to win its 18th straight against Oklahoma in the Phog.
“We don’t want any games to slip away from us,” Grimes said, “especially at home.”
The last time Kansas lost its initial Big 12 game was against Oklahoma on Jan. 8, 1991.
The Sooners (11-2, 0-1) nearly turned the trick again Wednesday night, rallying just about every time the Jayhawks went on a run. And when Charlie Moore missed two free throws in the final minute, Aaron Calixte’s off-balance runner got them within 67-63 with 31 seconds to go.
Dotson made the second of two foul shots at the other end for Kansas, and when Calixte and Kristian Doolittle came up empty for Oklahoma, Dotson made two more free throws to seal the win.
“We had some opportunities,” Sooners coach Lon Kruger said, “we just didn’t finish.”
Lagerald Vick contributed 12 points for the Jayhawks, despite an off night shooting the ball. He was 2 of 7 from beyond the arc, where the Jayhawks were just 4 of 21 as a team.
Brady Manek led the Sooners with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Doolittle added 10 points and Christian James had 11, though he was just 4 of 15 from the field and 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.
“Got to take care of the ball more,” Manek said. “Thought we played better in the second half.”
The Jayhawks got off to a slow start, but Dotson’s layup midway through the first half catapulted them on a 15-0 run. Most of it was fueled by defense, where Udoka Azubuike swatted a shot and turnovers turned into easy fast-break opportunities. Dotson capped it with a 3-pointer from the wing.
Oklahoma briefly nipped into the lead, but the Jayhawks closed with a 12-3 charge — Lawson scored his first two field goals after a 0-for-9 start — to take a 40-25 lead into the break.
“I thought the first half we ran well. Probably as efficiently as we’ve run all year,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “The second half was a dud. There was no transition at all the second half.”
Indeed, the Sooners ramped up their defense, which had been holding opponents to 66.1 points, and made their own run early in the second half. The highlight came when Doolittle threw down an alley-oop dunk to wrap up a run of nine straight points over the opening five minutes.
Lawson provided an answer for the Jayhawks.
The preseason Big 12 player of the year scored back-to-back baskets moments later. Then, after Dotson knocked down a 3 off a pretty assist from Marcus Garrett, Lawson added another basket to provide the Jayhawks a 58-45 lead and force Kruger to call for a timeout.
“I knew in the post they were doubling,” Lawson said, “so I just tried to feel where they were doubling from. I got a couple of one-on-one opportunities and tried to take advantage of it.”
Oklahoma got the deficit back to single digits by the final media timeout, and kept the game close the rest of the way. But the Jayhawks, despite missing crucial free throws, managed to hang on for their 28th consecutive Big 12-opening win.
“You know,” Self said with a wry grin, “even though we didn’t do a lot of good things, we’ve won a lot of games like tonight over the course of the years. You don’t play great but you make sure the other team doesn’t play quite as good as you do.”
Oklahoma had won seven straight heading into the Phog, yet the Sooners’ struggles in the venerable field house continued.
Kansas struggled from the perimeter but made up for it with defense and determination. The Jayhawks tracked down loose balls, forced the Sooners into 17 turnovers and made enough free throws to survive.
Oklahoma returns home for Bedlam against Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Kansas visits Hilton Coliseum to face Iowa State on Saturday.
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