KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A basketball game played in front of 18,493 fans in Kansas City’s Sprint Center on Saturday night probably really didn’t tell the college basketball world anything it didn’t already know.
The ultra-talented No. 13 Kansas Jayhawks are still one of the nation’s elite teams, likely to contend for a national title with a roster deep in NBA-ready talent.
And the top-heavy New Mexico Lobos are a very limited team when it has to get points from players other than Kendall Williams, Cameron Bairstow or Alex Kirk.
Kansas (7-3) used a pair of scoring runs in the second half to run away from the visiting Lobos 80-63, snapping a two-game skid and ensuring their run of 90 consecutive weeks in The Associated Press Top 25 will remain intact.
The loss also ensures UNM’s return to the rankings won’t be happening any time soon.
“I like their team, and I also like my team,” Lobos coach Craig Neal said after his squad fell to 7-2. “… They came out ready to play in the second half, and I don’t think we did.”
After holding a 39-38 halftime lead over the Lobos, despite UNM getting just 3 minutes, 15 seconds in the first half from Kirk who had two early fouls, Kansas opened things up in the second half with a 16-4 scoring run to push the lead to 55-42, then closed the game on a 17-5 run after a Williams four-point play had cut the lead to five.
“Pretty much buried the game right there,” Williams said of the way Kansas came out in the second half. “We weren’t able to bounce back from that.”
KU post players Perry Ellis (21 points, nine rebounds) and Joel Embiid (18 points, four blocked shots) combined for just 10 points in the first half before erupting for 29 in the second half. They scored KU’s first 16 points out of the half and continually attacked UNM in the post knowing Kirk couldn’t be as aggressive as normal because of foul trouble. Kirk eventually fouled out with 2:53 remaining in the game with five points, five rebounds and no blocked shots.
“Our bigs were really good today against two bigs that can really play,” Kansas head coach Bill Self said, adding Bairstow was “unbelievable” in the game.
It was clear UNM simply didn’t know how to respond when Kirk was limited.
“We caught a break on that when he (Kirk) got two quick ones (fouls),” Self said.
Bairstow and Williams tried to make up for it. The two seniors combined to shoot 14-of-28 for the Lobos for a combined 48 points. They went 18-of-21 at the free-throw line. The rest of the Lobos’ lineup shot 4-of-26 (15.4 percent) and scored 15 points.
UNM, which returned four starters from last year’s 29-win team, had hoped to take advantage of the youth of a Kansas team that started three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. Down the stretch, it was the Jayhawks who looked the part of the poised, veteran team.
“Sometimes that stuff is overrated,” Williams said. “You’ve got to go out there and play the game. They’ve got a lot of skill players. … Experience is whatever you want to make of it. They just executed more and made more shots than us.”
Williams’ four-point play with 8:01 left in the game cut the Kansas lead to 63-58. It was also the fourth foul on freshmen phenom Andrew Wiggins, who had just 11 points and failed to slow Williams throughout the game.
But UNM “couldn’t get over the hump” after that, according to Neal, who added the right wrist injury suffered Dec. 4 at New Mexico State by junior Hugh Greenwood has all but eliminated what the team had hoped would be its fourth scoring option.
“I think guys are getting chances,” Neal said. “I just don’t know who’s going to be that scorer. And we’re playing with our point guard with a hurt wrist who doesn’t look to shoot. It’s tough on him. He probably can’t shoot a 5-foot shot (because of the injury), but he’s tough as nails, and we’ve just got to get some scoring off the bench. Hopefully we’ll improve that.”