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02/12/2013 4:51 PM EST
Kansas: Road to Big 12 title runs through Phog
KANSAS 83, KANSAS ST 62

By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- The road to the Big 12 title these days is
fraught with peril.



There's parity, with seven teams sitting .500 or better in
conference play. There's plenty of talent with young stars such
as Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart and Kansas State's Rodney
McGruder. And there's an 18-game, double-round robin schedule
that will grind up and spit out all but the grittiest, toughest
teams in the league.



Kansas proved Monday night that the journey to a championship
still runs through Lawrence, Kan.



After falling a game behind the No. 10 Wildcats during their
first three-game losing streak since 2005, the No. 14 Jayhawks
returned to the friendly confines of the Phog and needed all of
20 minutes to bury their bitter in-state rivals in what turned
out to be an 83-62 blowout.



Now, the eight-time defending Big 12 champions are back on top,
tied with the Wildcats - whom they've beaten twice - and a
half-game ahead of the Cowboys in the standings.



"We're definitely a first-place team," said the Jayhawks' Jeff
Withey. "We see ourselves as one of the best teams in the
nation. That's not going to change. We lost three games in a
row, but we're going to spin that into a positive. Eventually,
that's going to make us a better team."



They couldn't have been much better than they were Monday night.



Freshman Ben McLemore hit six 3-pointers and scored 30 points on
his 20th birthday while Withey piled up 17 points, 10 rebounds
and swatted five shots to break the school's career record for
blocks held by Greg Ostertag.



It was 47-29 by halftime, when the Jayhawks were shooting nearly
60 percent from the field, and Kansas State never managed to get
closer than 15 during an uneventful second half.



The Jayhawks' first-half point total was their most since
playing American in December. Their 18-point cushion was their
biggest in Big 12 play. They held the Wildcats' bench to just
four points, the best they've done all year. And their 41-23
rebounding edge was also the best in Big 12 play.



"I thought we played with great energy. We acted like we were
having a lot of fun out there. A lot of enthusiasm," said Kansas
coach Bill Self, who moved within four wins of 500 for his
career. "It's amazing. You have those sorts of things happen,
good things can happen."



The Jayhawks (20-5, 8-3) looked more like the team that peaked
in December with a 74-66 win at Ohio State than the one that
lost 62-55 to lowly TCU last Wednesday night. They managed to
get into a rhythm on offense, they dominated in the low post,
and they took McGruder out of the game in the first half, when
the outcome was ultimately decided.



"They got us strung out," said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber.
"They got us in transition, way too many layups, and we just
broke down defensively, which we'd been pretty good at."



The Wildcats had won four straight games to claw their way into
first place, taking advantage of the Jayhawks' recent stumble to
create a little more intrigue in Monday night's match-up. Then
the Jayhawks took it all away with their big first-half charge.



The Wildcats (19-5, 8-3) still control their fate, though. They
could win the rest of their games and assure no worse than a tie
for first place in the Big 12, and that would mean the first
regular-season conference championship for Kansas State since
the 1977 season.



"Are we going to come into practice on Wednesday ready to
compete, or are we going to feel sorry for ourselves? That's the
main thing," McGruder said Monday night. "I know my teammates,
we're going to come in ready to fight, and get ready for Baylor
on Saturday."



Kansas State has a tough road, playing the Bears twice and
visiting Oklahoma State in its regular-season finale. But it
already has a win over the Cowboys and split with Iowa State.



The No. 17 Cowboys (17-5, 7-3) still have to play the Jayhawks
and Wildcats at home, along with tough games against Oklahoma
and Iowa State down the stretch.



Then there's the Jayhawks, who visit Oklahoma State on Feb. 20.
They also visit Iowa State and Baylor, but those three games
appear to be the biggest road blocks standing in their way.



Not necessarily the roughest road on the way to a ninth straight
championship.



"We still control our own destiny, even though it will be
difficult," Self said. "Without question."

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