Iowa State came out like a team that felt it owed Kansas a beating.
But after enduring a fast Cyclones start, the Jayhawks were the ones who administered overwhelming force.
KU overcame a slow start to blow away the Cyclones 88-73 on Friday night before a record crowd of 19,160 at the Sprint Center.
The seventh-ranked Jayhawks (28-5) advance to their 10th Big 12 men’s basketball tournament final against the winner of Friday’s semifinal between Kansas State and Oklahoma State.
The championship is at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“I thought it was a very emotional game, both teams, especially Iowa State, they came out of the chute fast, and our guys knew it would be an emotion-filled game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “After about the 12-minute mark I thought we did a good job playing with energy and matching their emotion.”
After falling behind 12-4, Kansas went on a 9-0 run to take its first lead with 11:07 remaining in the first half.
Perhaps an even bigger explosion for Kansas came in the form of a tirade by coach Bill Self, who was incensed when freshman guard Ben McLemore was assessed a technical after celebrating a 3-pointer that gave KU a 16-13 lead with 9:41 left in the half.
Less than two minutes later, Self was given a technical after a no-call on what he thought was a hook by ISU’s Georges Niang, who drove the baseline for a layup to pull the Cyclones to within 20-19 with less than 8:00 to go in the half.
ISU made all four technical free throws and led 21-20 with 7:47 remaining in the half. But the tirade worked in the form of inspiration for Kansas, which never trailed again after Perry Ellis’ dunk gave them a 28-26 lead with 3:43 left in the half.
ISU (22-11), which is likely to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, was looking to avenge two overtime losses to KU earlier in the year, both of which the Cyclones felt they let slip away in the waning moments.
Kansas didn’t give them a chance Friday. The Jayhawks were in control the entire second half, shooting nearly 70 percent after the break while building a lead as large as 17 points.
KU held at least a nine-point lead the final 18 minutes. Ellis, a freshman from Wichita, Kan., scored a career-high 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting in 28 minutes off the bench, the most of his young career. He replaced starter Kevin Young who injured his knee. Young said after the game that he should be fine for Saturday’s final.
“Kevin got hurt, so I just tried to come in and attack and help my team,” Ellis said. “That’s all I was trying to do; I was trying to win.”
Self declined to call his technical foul antics a designed show of emotion to ignite his team, but his players responded like it was and said so after the game.
“I acted like an idiot, I know,” said Self, who tied Texas coach Rick Barnes with his 20th all-time win at the Big 12 tournament. “It was important that our guys played with unbelievable emotion in order to match their emotion. So if the players are going to play with emotion, the coach might as well have some emotion, too.”
ISU players dismissed Self’s technical as any type of “game-changer.”
“They just started scoring, making shots,” said Niang, who led ISU with 19 points. “We tried to go down there too fast and make some tough plays, and they got a couple of turnovers. And turnovers hurt us, and they got some offensive rebounds that also hurt us.”
ISU coach Fred Hoiberg tried his own bit of dramatics to wake up his team during a timeout early in the second half by picking up and banging a chair to the floor.
“I was trying to get us going a little bit,” he said. “They outrebounded us by 10 and we really felt we had to win the rebound battle if we were going to have a chance to win this game. It’s what kept us in it the first couple times.”