LAWRENCE — Twenty-eight was far from great for Kansas basketball, but when it comes to the Jayhawks’ jaw-dropping stretch of consecutive conference-opening success, the outcome was no different.
The fifth-ranked Jayhawks built up a double-digit halftime lead and kept No. 23 Oklahoma at arm’s length the rest of the way, surviving a dicey second-half performance for a 70-63 victory in the teams' league opener on Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The outcome continued a string of victories in conference openers that dates back to the 1991-92 season — a stretch that predates the Big 12, which KU has won a national record-breaking 14 consecutive times.
KU (12-1) took a 15-point lead into the break thanks to a strong finish from its leading scorer.
Dedric Lawson, who entered the evening second in the Big 12 in scoring at 19.6 points per game, was held scoreless for the first 19 minutes but finished the half with five points, including an and-1 conversion on a layup through contact with 3.9 seconds left in the period to give the Jayhawks their 40-25 advantage on the Sooners (11-2) heading into the locker room.
It was freshman guard Quentin Grimes that shined most early on, though, scoring a game-high 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting before the break.
The former five-star recruit out of The Woodlands, Texas, scored seven points in an early 15-0 run that turned a seven-point deficit into a double-digit lead, capping the rally with the Jayhawks’ first made 3-pointer of the evening. Later, Grimes’ emphatic dunk on a Lagerald Vick steal and assist capped a 10-2 run and again lifted the Jayhawk lead to double-figures, 33-22 with 2:50 left in the period.
KU made just two 3s in the first half but converted 16 of 27 tries inside the arc, riding a 30-14 advantage in points in the paint into the lopsided lead at the halfway point.
The Jayhawks, though, face-planted out of the break, held scoreless for five-plus minutes and without a field goal make until Lawson’s layup at the 13-minute mark. A 3-pointer from Christian James and a Jamal Bieniemy jumper cut the Sooners’ deficit to five, 49-44, with 10:56 to play and forced a full timeout from KU coach Bill Self, hoping to get on track his discombobulated squad, which at that point was 2-for-11 shooting in the second period.
Whatever Self said in the surely scathing timeout, it was a message Lawson clearly heard loud and clear.
KU connected on field goal attempts on each of its four subsequent trips on offense, with Lawson contributing a pair of a layups and a jumper and Devon Dotson connecting on a 3. Lawson’s point-blank make made the KU lead 58-46 with 8:33 remaining, and this time, it was OU coach and Silver Lake native Lon Kruger calling timeout.
It’s worth noting the Jayhawks made their offensive push with four guards around Lawson.
The Jayhawk advantage remained at 12 at the time of a Kristian Doolittle and-1 conversion at the 4:44 mark, and with junior center Udoka Azubuike now in the contest beside Lawson, Kruger deployed the “Poke-a-Doke” strategy of intentionally sending the 7-footer to the free-throw line, where he missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Doolittle hit a one of two attempts on the other end, and the KU lead stood at eight, 62-54, at a timeout with 3:47 left.
Azubuike — who last year missed six consecutive free-throw attempts in the final four minutes of a comeback victory for the Sooners last year in Norman, Okla. — was sent to the bench out of the timeout, and while Dotson put the Jayhawks up nine, 65-56, with a layup through traffic and ensuing free-throw make, OU wasn’t going away. Charlie Moore missed a pair of tries at the stripe with 37.9 seconds left, and Aaron Calixte’s layup on the other end cut the deficit to four, 67-63, with 30.9 remaining.
But Dotson would hit three out of four free-throw makes in the next 15 seconds, with misses from Calixte and Doolittle sandwiched between, to seal the outcome. Calixte misfired on a trey with nine seconds left, and the Jayhawks were able to run the clock out on a 28th straight victory in a conference opener.
Dotson led all Jayhawks with 16 points, while Grimes (14 points), Lawson (13, 15 rebounds) and Vick (12) rounded out the balanced KU attack — though outside of Marcus Garrett's five-assist evening, no other Jayhawk had more than one dime. Brady Manek also had 16 points for the Sooners, who committed 17 turnovers but recovered to finish the game trailing just 40-32 in points in the paint.
KU continues conference play with a 4 p.m. Saturday tilt against Iowa State in Ames.
OKLAHOMA (11-2) — Manek 6-13 3-5 16, Doolittle 5-12 2-3 12, Calixte 4-8 0-0 10, James 4-15 2-4 11, Reynolds 3-5 1-1 7, Freeman 0-4 0-0 0, McNeace 0-1 0-0 0, Odomes 0-1 0-0 0, Bieniemy 3-3 0-0 7. TOTALS 25-62 8-13 63.
KANSAS (12-1) — D.Lawson 6-17 1-1 13, Azubuike 4-5 0-1 8, Grimes 6-11 1-3 14, Dotson 4-10 7-8 16, Vick 5-12 0-1 12, McCormack 0-1 0-0 0, Lightfoot 0-0 0-0 0, Moore 0-4 2-4 2, Garrett 1-3 3-4 5, K.Lawson 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS 26-63 14-22 70.
3-Point Goals — Oklahoma 5-22 (Calixte 2-4, Bieniemy 1-1, Manek 1-4, James 1-7, Odomes 0-1, Reynolds 0-1, Freeman 0-4), Kansas 4-21 (Vick 2-7, Dotson 1-3, Grimes 1-6, Moore 0-1, Garrett 0-1, D.Lawson 0-3). Fouled Out — Reynolds. Rebounds — Oklahoma 38 (James 12), Kansas 41 (D.Lawson 15). Assists — Oklahoma 9 (Calixte 3), Kansas 10 (Garrett 5). Total Fouls — Oklahoma 17, Kansas 17.