Malik Newman poured in 22 points, Silvio De Sousa filled in admirably for ailing big man Udoka Azubuike and ninth-ranked Kansas beat short-handed Kansas State 83-67 on Friday night to reach the Big 12 Tournament title game.
Devonte Graham added 15 points and Svi Mykhailiuk had 12 for the top-seeded Jayhawks (26-7), who will play No. 14 Texas Tech or No. 18 West Virginia for the championship on Saturday night.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats (23-10) learned Friday morning they’d be without All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, who hurt his foot in their quarterfinal win over TCU. Then they lost starting guard Barry Brown early against the Jayhawks when he was accidentally poked in the eye.
They still put up a fight, thanks primarily to Makol Mawien, the unheralded forward who scored a career-high 29 points. Xavier Sneed added 12 but once again struggled with his shot.
It was the Jayhawks’ eighth straight win over Kansas State, and they remained perfect in 10 games against their cross-state rival in the Big 12 Tournament.
This one was supposed to be a challenge, though, with Azubuike out with a knee injury. But the plot was thrown for a twist when Wade showed up to the arena wearing sweats, and again when Brown was poked in the eye by Graham while driving to the basket less than 90 seconds into the game.
The high-scoring guard flopped to the floor in pain, clutching at his face, and remained down while a trainer and coach Bruce Weber visited him. He immediately went to the locker room and returned to the bench later in the half but wound up sitting out with slight bleeding in his left eye.
Kansas took advantage of his absence by ripping off a 19-4 run midway through the first half that gave the Jayhawks control. They eventually pushed the advantage to 43-30 by the break.
Mawien and the Wildcats made the Jayhawks work for it in the second half. The junior college transfer dominated in the paint, especially when Kansas big man Mitch Lightfoot picked up his fourth foul with 11:38 to go, and Kansas State clawed to within 53-51 with 10 minutes left.
It was Newman that restored order. The transfer from Mississippi State followed up his career-best 30-point effort in a quarterfinal win over Oklahoma State with another virtuoso performance.
He drained a 3-pointer to make it 60-53 with 8½ minutes left, then hit his fifth of the game a few minutes later. And by the time Lagerald Vick curled in back-to-back baskets, the lead had swelled to 71-59 and the Jayhawks were on their way toward the title game.
Weber held out hope Wade could return for the title game if Kansas State won, and he is optimistic about his availability for next week’s NCAA Tournament. “Going forward into next week,” Weber said, “we have every indication he will be able to play.”
Kansas State almost certainly locked up its NCAA Tournament bid with its win over TCU, but the fight the Wildcats showed against Kansas — down their two best players — may have helped their cause.
Kansas has played well using a four-guard lineup while Azubuike deals with a sprained ligament in his left knee. That should give the Jayhawks confidence if he misses any NCAA Tournament games.
Kansas State returns to Manhattan to await its NCAA Tournament fate.
Kansas turns its attention toward winning its 15th conference tournament title.