NORMAN – Three days after a hotly-debated 39-shot outing in a loss at Oklahoma State, OU’s Trae Young altered his playing course.
As a result, the Sooners, at least momentarily, kept the Big 12 from becoming a one-horse race.
Young scored 48 points against OSU Saturday but missed 25 shots (14-of-39) and turned the ball over seven times.
Tuesday night, Young took just nine shots, hitting seven in an 85-80 victory over Kansas at the Lloyd Noble Center. He didn’t put up a 3-pointer until the second half, finishing 2-of-3 in that department, and knocked down 10-of-12 free throws.
Equally important, Young committed just five turnovers, although playing the entire 40 minutes.
His Jayhawk counterpart, senior Devonte’ Graham, couldn’t match Young’s proficiency. KU’s leading scorer and second-leading Big 12 scorer (18.1), had a dismal shooting night at 4-of-19 for 21 percent. Graham, normally a 43.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc, was 1-of-9.
The six other Jayhawk scorers combined for a 28-of-52 marksmanship for 53.8 percent.
Graham was the only player besides Young to play 40 minutes.
While Young didn’t match his season scoring average, a nation-leading 30.5, his overall game approach and mindset was superb, particularly at the outset of the second half. Kansas, which had trailed by as many as 10 points (39-29) in the opening half, cut the deficit to 43-41 at the intermission.
The Jayhawks sizzled at the start of the second half, scoring on their first seven possessions while opening up a 10-point advantage. It appeared KU was destined to improve to 4-0 in conference road games.
Kansas swarmed Young with multiple defenders, daring him to trust his teammates in crucial situations.
Young was equal to the task as he stayed the course – one of patience — by hitting open teammates when he found no gaps and taking better care of the ball. He committed just two turnovers the final 20 minutes and finished with five.
Still, the Sooners needed help and got it when Oklahoma native and Kansas coach Bill Self put his heart, not his logic, squarely behind his bruising 7-foot-0, 280-pound strongman Udoka Azubuike.
Azubuike, a horrendous free-throw shooter — 23-of-56 for 41 percent going into the game — was purposely and continuously fouled by Matt Freeman and missed five straight free throws.
Initially, OU didn’t take advantage, scoring just once on four possessions, but the momentum had switched to the Crimson and Cream.
And it was Young The Passer, not Young The Scorer, who doled out KU’s final miseries. A crisp pass to Christian James resulted in a 3-pointer which gave OU the lead at the 1:09 mark and another dandy Young pass to fellow freshman Brady Manek provided the game-cementing 3-pointer with 25 seconds left.
Young had no impatient 3-pointers as some critics had suggested in the OSU game, but instead, deft decision-making, the difference in the outcome.
Had KU prevailed for its fourth straight road win, it would have owned a two-game lead over West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas Tech and a three-game lead over Oklahoma.
But Young’s willingness to walk a different path allowed the rest of the Big 12 to harbor hope that someone other than the Jayhawks can finally capture a conference title.
• At one first-half juncture, Jayhawk senior reserve Mitch Lightfoot was matched up against OU freshman sub Hannes Polla. Lightfoot was listed at 6-8, 210. Polla was listed at 6-11, 271. Side-by-side, the difference looked much greater. Polla had accumulated 15 points and seven rebounds in 32 court minutes this year. Tuesday, the Lahti, Finland product accounted for six rebounds and two points, all in four minutes of the opening half.
• Kansas is the only Big 12 team possessing a winning all-time record (146-67) against OU. Kruger is 3-10 against KU since arriving in Norman. Kansas is 50-43 in games at OU.
• Of the Jayhawks’ seven previous conference games, six had been decided by six points or less. KU had won all six. The Hawks are 16-2 in their last 18 Big 12 games decided by seven points or less.
• The Big 12/SEC Challenge will take place Saturday with 10 games — five at SEC sites and five at Big 12 sites. No. 12 Oklahoma will travel to Alabama for a 1:15 p.m. ESPN shootout.