LAWRENCE, Kan. — Dedric Lawson had 18 points and 14 rebounds to cement his front-runner status for Big 12 player of the year, and No. 15 Kansas pounded No. 16 Kansas State 64-49 on Monday night to keep alive its hopes of a 15th consecutive conference championship.
Devon Dotson added 16 points and fellow freshman Quentin Grimes had 12 for the Jayhawks (21-7, 10-5), who moved within a game of the league-leading Wildcats (21-7, 11-4) with three to play.
Texas Tech, which roughed up the Jayhawks on Saturday, is a half-game back in second place.
There was a sense of desperation in the air inside Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas — despite all the injuries and unrest this season — had not lost in 19 games. And it manifested itself in the kind of cutthroat defense that coach Bill Self’s teams have become accustomed to playing over the years.
The Wildcats shot just 32 percent from the field, struggled with turnovers at key junctures and never seemed as comfortable as they were at Bramlage Coliseum, where they roared past the Jayhawks nearly three weeks ago to seize control of the conference race.
Kamau Stokes led the Wildcats with 12 points, but nobody on coach Bruce Weber’s team got into much of a rhythm. Floor leader Dean Wade was held to eight points and five boards before fouling out with 3:35 to go, and leading scorer Barry Brown Jr. finished with four points on 1-of-8 shooting.
It was a masterful defensive effort by a Kansas team that had been searching for an identity.
The Jayhawks doubled Wade in the post. They got big man Makol Mawien into early foul trouble. And they ultimately forced off-balance jumpers and deep 3s as the shot clock was winding down.
Meanwhile, Kansas turned its defense into just enough offense to rip off a 12-2 run midway through the half, and that was responsible for the 34-27 lead the Jayhawks took to the locker room.
The in-your-shorts defense was just as responsible for extending the lead in the second half.
Kansas State missed three shots on its first trip down the floor, three more on its next, and its first 10 out of the break. The Jayhawks took advantage by converting a couple easy layups, and Grimes shrugged off a season-long slump to hit an open 3-pointer and push the lead to 41-27 with 16 minutes to go.
Suddenly, a field house stirring with anticipation and jammed to the rafters was roaring.
Wildcats guard Xavier Sneed went to the bench midway through the second half with cramps, and that seemed to spoil a brief surge. The Jayhawks’ defense took care of every other Kansas State run, closing the door not only on a comeback but any hopes of delivering a knockout blow in the Big 12 title chase.
Kansas has been short-handed with Udoka Azubuike out with a season-ending wrist injury and senior guard Lagerald Vick on a leave of absence. But forward Mitch Lightfoot provided a huge lift off the bench in the first half, and he wound up with nine points and five boards in 31 minutes.
Kansas State still has not swept a season series from the Jayhawks since the 1983 season, and the Wildcats have not won back-to-back games against Kansas since 1993-94. But they still command the Big 12 heading down the stretch, and they have extra time to prepare for Baylor on Saturday.
Kansas heads to Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Kansas State plays Baylor on Saturday night.