The flurry from Iowa State came with just enough time left for a flicker of hope. Down by double-digits for much of the second half at Kansas, and desperately trying not to seem like the latest also-ran in the Big 12, the Cyclones decided it was time for a last-ditch effort. They cut the lead to 10 with 2:35 to play.
Iowa State, could you do it?
Could you maybe, possibly throw a worthy challenge at Kansas?
Yeah, right. Chalk it up to a seemingly never-ending parade of Jayhawks performers. Or perhaps the second game of a heated conference rivalry, where Kansas lost the first meeting. Or maybe just because it's Phog Allen Fieldhouse and when opposing teams come in, they usually exit with a loss (or at least the last 20 have).
But if you're one of the other nine teams in the Big 12 Conference standings, you're waking up Tuesday morning thinking the same thing: If Iowa State can't win at Kansas, who can?
At 8-1, the Jayhawks are now 1.5 games ahead of West Virginia in the conference race with nine games left in the regular season. Two games clear of the Cyclones and three ahead of Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Baylor? Your hope is fading at 3.5 games back.
No. 25 Texas? That's a funny joke. You're 4.5 back.
If Kansas is going to play the way it did on Monday night against Iowa State, we should all just fast-forward to March 7, give it the regular-season title and let the rest of the league know that the conference tournament goes through them. A little more than two weeks ago, Kansas lost at Iowa State by five points, 86-81. That gave the rest of the league some optimism that perhaps Kansas was still suspect.
Its scorers had been spotty throughout the first half of the season, its rotation still not totally figured out.
To wit: In that first Iowa State game, Wayne Selden Jr. scored only 12 points and Brannen Greene had zero.
But Monday night, the new and improved Kansas showed why it is rounding into the team to beat in the league, and surging toward a possible No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. Selden scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting, making five of his seven 3-point attempts. Greene continued his surge into a scoring role player for Bill Self's team. Another 11 points on Monday, equaling his average over the last five games.
Add that to the continuing emergence of Frank Mason, the development of Perry Ellis and Kelly Oubre Jr., and you've got a dangerous recipe for anyone to deal with.
Now, there is still an entire month of February left.
Kansas still has two games with No. 15 West Virginia and one each against Oklahoma State (Saturday), Baylor (Feb. 14), Kansas State (Feb. 23), Texas (Feb. 28) and Oklahoma (Mar. 7). But here's the thing: the Jayhawks already own half of the season split against each of those teams. Going two games up on Iowa State now, gives Kansas more breathing room than its 1.5-game margin would insinuate.
West Virginia still has to play two games against Baylor and Oklahoma State, in addition to the Jayhawks.
Kansas-Iowa State was the only game in the conference on Monday night. An Iowa State season sweep would've put more teams in play and left the league up for a more jumbled scrum to the finish line. All eyes around the Big 12 were on this game.
And they all saw the same thing.
If Iowa State can't win at Kansas, who can?