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KANSAS CITY, Missouri — If you need your one shining moment a week or so early, Kansas’ Lagerald Vick has got you, man.
Except that was the problem with Kansas’ latest takedown of an alleged opponent in the NCAA Tournament. There wasn’t just one moment.
There were about 100, it seemed. That would be mathematically serendipitous when KU almost reached triple digits with its high-flying exploits in routing Purdue 98-66 Thursday in a Midwest Regional semifinal.
But back to Vick, who stole a Purdue pass eight minutes into the second half. The open stretch of hardwood in front of him allowed Vick to think things through in the middle of a 15-2 KU run.
“I talked about it before the game,” the sophomore guard said. “I already knew what I was going to do.”
So did most of the 18,475 in the Sprint Center, which doubled as Allen Fieldhouse East on Thursday.
“I just had to bring energy to the building,” Vick said.
No problem there after Vick’s 360-degree jam almost blew the top off the place. Purdue was done. Now we — and the remaining NCAA field — must deal with the consequences.
This is as good as KU has played this season. We know it. They know it. Certainly UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue know it. Those three tournament opponents have lost to Kansas by a combined 90 points.
The only thing seemingly standing between KU and a nonstop to Phoenix next week is a required change of planes Saturday against Oregon.
That would otherwise be known as the Midwest Regional final against the Ducks, 69-68 winners over Michigan earlier Thursday.
A word of warning for Phil Knight’s personal shoe marketing program: Kansas is how a top seed plays on its way to the Final Four. KU is the first team since UConn in 1995 to score at least 90 points in its first three tournament games.
Those Huskies didn’t win it all, but Kansas is well aware of not fulfilling its destiny. The Jayhawks were at this exact spot last year — the Elite Eight — only to hit a dry spot in a loss to eventual champion Villanova.
“We’re playing confident,” center Landen Lucas said. “We were last year too, but there’s a new level to it this year.”
Thursday marked another great game by what might be the greatest backcourt in the country. Devonte Graham and Frank Mason combined for 52 points, 26 each.
They got it all wrong, those concerned about Purdue’s vertical game — all 13 feet, 11 inches worth of post players in Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas.
It was Kansas’ horizontal game they had to worry about. The Jayhawks’ transition game is surgical.
The Boilers and coach Matt Painter made the epically dumb decision to try to run with the Jayhawks. For Swanigan and Purdue, the game literally passed them by. Leading 33-25, Purdue was outscored 73-33 the rest of the way.
“I thought that was kind of silly in a way to talk so much about how we were going to try to handle them inside,” Lucas said. “There was less talk about how they were going to stop our guards. That’s obviously a problem.”
Swanigan came to the postgame press conference wearing a hat that read “I Feel Like Kobe.” Yeah, well, he played, like, spotty. To go along with 18 points, Swanigan — a national player of the year favorite — also had six turnovers.
“Landen only got four rebounds,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of his post who was in foul trouble. “But the story is Caleb only got seven.”
The story is also that the Jayhawks have remade part of their personality. They spent most of a 31-win season playing too close. Overtime thrillers, comebacks, blown leads.
Clearly, they had more talent than a lot of their foes. Maybe it just took the tournament for the real incentive to kick in.
“It’s really the stage. We’re taking everything more serious,” Lucas said. “We try to do that throughout the whole year, but it’s really hard night in, night out.”
Yes, it was a de facto home game for the Jayhawks. But this game could have been played on a West Lafayette playground at midnight and the Jayhawks still would have won by double digits.
You know it’s going good when one of the backup guards is calling his shots.
“He said he was going to get a defensive stop and get a run-out,” teammate Carlton Bragg said of Vick. “If he was going to get a run out, it was going to be a 360. I said, ‘Let’s see it then.’ ’’
The best way to describe what happened next may be the best way to warn Oregon for Saturday.
NCAA Tournament 2017: Kansas did something not seen in 22 years – CBSSports.com