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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, February 09, 2013 8:15 pm

No. 5 Kansas drops 3rd straight, 72-66 at Oklahoma

By JEFF LATZKEAP Sports Writer

After No. 5 Kansas lost back-to-back games for the first time in seven years, Bill Self let loose with how unhappy he was with his Jayhawks.

The third straight defeat was easier to take. This time, he saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

Romero Osby scored 17 points, Steven Pledger added 15 and Oklahoma held off Kansas 72-66 on Saturday to hand the Jayhawks their first three-game losing streak in eight years.

That season, the Jayhawks managed to hang on and win the Big 12 regular-season title but ended up suffering a first-round loss in the NCAA tournament against Bucknell. Self was far from sounding the alarm after what he considered an improved effort.

"It hasn't been a good week for us by any stretch, but let's be real," he said. "We were ranked No. 2 in the country seven days ago, and you don't go from being a good team to a bad team overnight.

"We've had a couple of bad outings, but we're still a good team."

Self had delivered a colorful - and scathing - assessment of his team after a stunning loss at last-place TCU on Wednesday, saying it was the worst first half the storied program had put together since basketball inventor Dr. James Naismith was coaching the team and lost to Topeka YMCA.

"Obviously three in a row is not good, but this game to me today, I'm not leaving out of here disgusted with my team at all because we actually played better today," Self said.

"We played a good team today, and they shot the heck out of the basketball."

The Sooners (15-7, 6-4 Big 12) snapped a 10-game losing streak in the series and took down a top-5 opponent for the first time since beating No. 4 Texas on Jan. 28, 2006.

Freshman Je'lon Hornbeak went 4 for 6 at the free throw line in the final minute, just enough to keep the Jayhawks (19-4, 7-3) at bay. Cameron Clark hit two free throws to finish it off, and fans stormed the court after Hield stole the ball and dunked after the final buzzer sounded.

Osby said there was no underestimating the Jayhawks, even if they were slumping.

"We had lost two straight, too. We needed a win," Osby said. "So, they could have looked at us the same way. But we just came out and we just fought."

Just a week ago, Kansas had the nation's longest winning streak at 18 games. Now, the program is on its first three-game losing streak since February 2005.

Ben McLemore led Kansas with 15 points and Jeff Withey had 14 points, six rebounds and the one block he needed to tie Greg Ostertag's school record of 258 for his career. The Jayhawks outscored Oklahoma 32-16 in the paint, but missed seven of their first 12 free throws to stall their attempts at a comeback.

"We're going to fight through it. We're going to be all right," senior Elijah Johnson said. "We're learning right now. It's cool. I'm all right with that. I think Coach is, too."

Johnson said the streak has been a learning experience for the team's younger players.

"They're starting to realize that it can turn on you real quick, and you've got to take what you want and not just expect it to be handed to you," Johnson said.

"Right now, we're definitely a changed team. We don't think how we thought two weeks ago. Not at all."

Johnson's runner with 4:58 remaining finished a string of eight straight Jayhawk points and cut the deficit to 57-56. Travis Releford had a chance to tie it at 60 before missing the second of two free throws 46 seconds later, and Pledger connected on a 3-pointer from the right wing at the opposite end to give Oklahoma a smidgen of breathing room.

Hornbeak hit one of two free throws for a 67-61 lead with 57.7 seconds left, then split another pair after Johnson hit a 3. McLemore's tip-in of a miss by Naadir Tharpe got Kansas within 68-66 with 15.7 seconds left.

Hornbeak then went 2 for 2 at the line when it counted the most.

"I missed two. I'm not really happy about that," Hornbeak said. "They went in and out on me. But the last two, I knew the touch - exactly where I needed to put the ball at."

The Jayhawks have a quick turnaround before hosting No. 13 Kansas State (19-4, 8-2) on Monday. The Wildcats took over first place in the Big 12 by beating Iowa State on Saturday.

"It's so easy to pout right now, so easy," Johnson said. "Nobody cares. They want results. That's what I'm going to stress to the team: No time to pout up."

The Jayhawks, who made just three baskets and scored 13 points in the first half of the loss at TCU, surpassed that scoring total in just over 5 minutes as both teams got out to a crisp start. The problem for Kansas was at the other end, with the Sooners hitting 15 of their first 25 shots and leading by as many as eight in the final minute of the first half.

"I hate to say this but there's a lot of teams in the country that lose two or three games in a row, and there's a lot of teams that struggle winning away from home," Self said. "This today isn't magnified from a win-loss standpoint if we had taken care of business when we should have the prior games."