KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- For the second time in two days, No. 2 Kansas found itself trailing in the first half. On Thursday, it was Oklahoma State holding a seven-point lead.
On Friday, it was Colorado’s turn. But all the Jayhawks needed was some Morris. Kansas’ twins took control by combining for Kansas' next 17 points to erase an early 12-point deficit and help Kansas beat Colorado 90-83 and advance to the Big 12 Championship on Sunday.
"We actually played some of our best ball of the year probably from about the 10-minute mark to about the 10-minute mark of the second half and kind of faltered down the stretch," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "But we'll take it.
The reason for that stretch, in which Kansas outscored Colorado 64-35, was simple. A quick pace that favored Colorado's shooters and slashers slowed to a pace that favored the Kansas strategy of pounding it down low to their skilled 6-foot-9 big men.
"I just felt like we started utilizing what we normally do, we went back to the way we normally are, getting the ball down low," Marcus Morris said. "In the beginning we weren't getting too many touches down there, and danger's going to happen that way."
On Thursday, the Cowboys defense held Marcus and Markieff Morris to an average night. Colorado, however, had no answer for either on Friday. They combined for 40 points, 21 rebounds and helped the Jayhawks avoid a stumble before what they hope is a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Jayhawks should enter as a No. 1 seed.
"We want to play through our bigs. Marcus and Markieff are our best offensive players," said Jayhawks guard Tyrel Reed.
The team needed a nudge from Self. He reminded them in his second timeout during an early Buffaloes surge. This time, his team trailed 22-10.
The next time a Kansas player not named Morris scored, the Jayhawks had already climbed back and had a 27-26 lead -- capped by a 3-pointer from Markieff.
"I feel like the entire thing is on us," Marcus said. "We have other core players, but we put ourself in that position where we want that and I feel like a lot of it is on our shoulders. We have to perform every night."
Though the Morrises carried Kansas on offense, the Jayhawks locked down defensively during that stretch. They held Colorado guard Cory Higgins, averaging more than 16 points a game this year, to 1-of-11 shooting and just six points. Alec Burks finished with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting, but he was ineffective while the game slipped away from the Buffaloes.
"Tyrel's a modest kid. Tyrel guarded him. That's the bottom line," Self said of Higgins' offensive struggles. "We had a couple other guys guard him a few possessions, but that was Tyrel's job. And if you would have told me going into the game that Tyrel would get 15 and the guy he guarded, who was arguably one of the best offensive players in our league, would get six, I would say that definitely shifted the scale to our favor. So I thought he did a great job on him."
The Morrises know the pressure is on them to perform. On Friday night they did. Without that Morris-fueled run, Kansas might be going home to prepare for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Instead, they're gearing up to face a team from Texas for the Big 12 title. Texas plays Texas A&M for the right to face Kansas, who made their preference clear after the game. The Jayhawks' 69-game home win streak ended at the hands of Texas earlier this season, and there's no one they want to see more on Saturday night.