KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Malik Newman and Kansas proved the cliché to be true: It is difficult to beat an opponent three times. Now the Jayhawks will try to prove they are capable of accomplishing that arduous task.
With their 82-68 victory against Oklahoma State on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, Newman and the Jayhawks earned a third matchup against in-state rival Kansas State.
The Jayhawks and Wildcats will square off at 6 p.m. Friday, a Sunflower Showdown semifinal that promises to have Sprint Center painted equal parts purple and crimson.
“The crowd’s going to be lit,” Newman said after scoring a career-high 30 points in the Jayhawks’ win against Oklahoma State, their first victory against the Pokes in three meetings this year. “We won’t have an Allen Fieldhouse experience, but I’m pretty sure we’ll have something close to it.”
The Jayhawks might prefer to have a Bramlage Coliseum experience instead. While KU swept its in-state rival for the third straight year, running its win streak in the state series to seven games, the Jayhawks have had an easier time against K-State in Manhattan lately.
KU cruised to a 70-56 victory on Jan. 29 in the Little Apple after eking out a 73-72 home win earlier in the month when Barry Brown missed a game-winning 3-point try in the final seconds. KU also survived a K-State scare at the Phog in 2017, winning 90-88.
“It’ll be tough,” said KU coach Bill Self, who is 31-5 against K-State, including 5-0 in the Big 12 tourney. “We’ve got a lot of respect for those guys.
“We’ll be jacked; they’ll be jacked.”
K-State advanced to the semifinals by surviving a 66-64 squeaker in overtime against TCU during Thursday’s first quarterfinal. At the time, the Wildcats (22-10) were unsure whether they would meet the Jayhawks or Cowboys, who they swept this year.
Despite the disparity in regular-season results, K-State coach Bruce Weber said he didn’t have an opponent preference.
“Either one, we’ve just gotta be ready,” Weber said. “I think if we shoot for one team now, it’s a little bit of a mental letdown.
“We just get ready. This is about us and gutting it out, being mentally tough and doing the things we do.”
For K-State, that generally means getting the ball to Brown and Dean Wade. While Makol Mawien led K-State on Thursday with 16 points and nine rebounds, Wade and Brown each boast team-high averages of 16 points.
KU’s Devonte’ Graham, the Big 12’s player of the year, seemed most concerned with Wade, a player he called “a monster.” Wade led the Wildcats in each of their KU games, scoring 22 in Lawrence and 20 in Manhattan.
With 7-footer Udoka Azubuike out with a sprained MCL, Wade’s 6-foot-10 presence could prove even more menacing for the Jayhawks.
“We definitely have to try to contain him,” said Graham, who had 10 points and nine assists against Oklahoma State. “We’re going to be switching one through four, so we’ve just got to stay up under him if a little guard’s on him, and Svi (Mykhailiuk) and them have got to crowd him when they’re on him.”
Both Graham and Newman are excited for the Showdown, though, partly because they know it will be a treat for players and fans and partly because they relish the challenge of beating K-State for a third time.
“It’s going to be a great one,” Graham said. “In-state rivalry in the Sprint Center, both crowds going to be crazy.
“It’s going to be tough to beat them three times if we don’t come out with the right mindset and focus in on the scouting report, because they’re not going to come in and just lay down.”
“We just have to go out swinging with our back against the wall and trust and believe in each other like we did tonight,” Newman said. “Just be aggressive, just go out there and have fun and play with confidence.”