Jayhawks and Cowboys collide in Big 12 quarterfinals

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Updated: 3/13 8:27 pm

Kansas City, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks will begin their stay in the Big 12 Conference Tournament on Thursday afternoon when they take on the eighth-seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys in the quarterfinal round at the Sprint Center.

The winner advances to the semifinals on Friday to play the survivor of the Iowa State/Kansas State matchup.

Oklahoma State opened up its tournament with an easy 80-62 victory over Texas Tech on Wednesday. The Cowboys have now won five of their last six games overall to surge to 21-11 overall, further solidifying their NCAA Tournament resume after a disastrous seven-game slide earlier in the season put their fate in peril.

Kansas was the class of the conference during the regular season once again, as it finished 14-4 in league play to earn the outright league championship, the No. 1 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. The Jayhawks, who are 23-8 overall, have earned at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title in 10 straight seasons, coming out as the tournament champion six times in that span, including last season. The squad has stumbled a bit coming into tournament play however, having lost two of its last three.

Oklahoma State bested Kansas back on March 1 in Stillwater, 72-65, to even the season series at one game apiece. The Jayhawks still have a comfortable advantage all time, 108-55.

The Cowboys barely broke a sweat in the earlier round, running out to a 23- point lead at half before cruising to victory, shooting 48.9 percent from the field and forcing 17 turnovers in the process. Marcus Smart filled the stat sheet with 18 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and six steals, Markel Brown led the way with 20 points and Phil Forte and Le'Bryan Nash added 14 and 10 points, respectively.

On the season, Oklahoma State has displayed impressive balance on both ends of the floor, shooting 46.8 percent from the field for 80.7 ppg while allowing 68.8 ppg on just 40.5 percent shooting. Smart has made a habit of putting together multi-faceted performances with 17.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.8 and 2.8 spg. Brown is an outstanding second option with 17.3 ppg, while Nash (14.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Forte (13.2 ppg) are also regular contributors.

KU dropped its regular-season finale at West Virginia, 92-86, as its comeback from 25 points down in the second half fell just short. Freshman sensation Andrew Wiggins put up a career-best performance in spite of the setback, shooting 12-of-18 from the field and 15-of-19 at the line for 41 points, while adding eight rebounds, five steals and four blocks for good measure. Perry Ellis and Frank Mason were also solid with 14 and 10 points, respectively.

The Jayhawks have enjoyed great offensive production this season, scoring 79.6 ppg, while ranking tied for fifth in the nation in field-goal percentage (.497), and their defensive effort has been solid as well, yielding 69.7 ppg on just 41.3 percent shooting. The squad will be shorthanded for the near future however, as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Joel Embiid (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) will miss the tournament with a back injury. In the absence of Embiid, as even larger load will be put on the shoulders of fellow first- year player Wiggins, who tallies 16.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg. Ellis (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Wayne Selden Jr. (10.1 ppg) and Naadir Tharpe (8.9 ppg, 5.0 apg) are also capable playmakers.

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