Collins and KU Put Away Aggies, 79-66

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas won its sixth-straight Big 12 championship this season and 53rd conference title in school history. On Saturday, the Jayhawks will aim to add another trophy to their rich collection when they play for the Big 12 tournament championship at Sprint Center against Kansas State at 5 p.m. (CT).

KU (31-2) advanced to the title game by beating Texas A&M, 79-66, Friday night, while KSU (26-6) knocked off Baylor, 82-75. The Jayhawks were spearheaded by a furious 21-2 run after trailing 55-51 with 10:32 remaining in the game, giving them a 72-57 lead with just under five minutes to go.

It was the knockout punch that sent the partisan KU crowd into a frenzy and ultimately ended the Aggies' chances for a a dramatic upset over the No. 1 Jayhawks.

"We just kind of flipped the switch and things started clicking," junior center Cole Aldrich said.

Freshman Xavier Henry scored 11 of his 15 points during that run, while Sherron Collins had six points and Markieff Morris four, including back-to-back layups which gave KU a 58-57 lead.  

The Jayhawks, who were actually down 47-38 early in the second half, really started "clicking" once they went to an uncustomary zone defense leading 56-55 with 9:21 remaining.

"Our run started on the defensive end," Henry said. "We switched up our defense a little bit and it kind of got them out of synch. Once we started playing better defense and rebounding the ball, we started scoring, too."

Collins, the fearless senior, scored 13 of his game-high 26 points in the final 13:30. It seems Collins became extra motivated by a war of words with the Aggies' players.  

"He becomes an angry player once in a while," Aldrich said of Collins. "When  he becomes angry and hot, he's tough to stop. I love the kid. He's the one who really hung us through the whole first half and halfway through the second half."

Morris had 10 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 29 minutes, while Aldrich and Tyshawn Taylor had nine points each. Aldrich (1,003 career points) became the 52nd player in KU history to eclipse 1,000 points.

Kansas shot a scorching 56 percent from the field, including 55.6 percent from three-point range (10-18). After a hot first half by the Aggies (50 percent shooting), they shot just 36 percent after halftime and 43.4 percent for the game.

A&M controlled the first 30 minutes, but Kansas withstood the Aggies and stepped up when it counted the most.

"We played pretty good the last 10 minutes," said KU coach Bill Self, who notched his 200th win at KU, making him the fastest Kansas coach to reach the 200-victory plateau. "We got the ball where it needed to go and our first-shot defense was good and we rebounded very well."

Unlike Thursday's quarterfinal game against Texas Tech, Self liked his team's energy, despite its rough first half, where KU had defensive lapses and committed 12 turnovers.

"I thought we tried really hard the first half," Self said. "A lot of defensive breakdowns from a mental standpoint, but it wasn't from a lack of effort. Sherron put us on his back to keep us in contact, and then last 12, 14 minutes everybody played great. So it was a good win for us."

With one minute left in the game, the fans broke out the "Rock Chalk" chant. They'll hope to do it again Saturday when the Jayhawks battle their Sunflower rivals from Manhattan, a game which should have the Sprint Center buzzing like never before.

To win its fourth Big 12 tournament title in the last five years, Kansas will need to play hungry like the Jayhawks did against A&M.

"We showed a lot of fight tonight," Aldrich said.