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No. 2 Kansas begins pursuit of 12th straight Big 12 title

Frank Mason III

Frank Mason III


LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Rarely can Kansas play the Rodney Dangerfield card.

After all, this is the program founded by the game’s inventor, and that has Dr. James Naismith’s name on its floor. It’s the one that counts Phog Allen, Larry Brown and Roy Williams among its former coaches, and has five national title banners in the rafters of Allen Fieldhouse.

No respect? No chance.

Except perhaps in this respect: On Saturday, the second-ranked Jayhawks begin pursuit of a 12th straight conference championship, a feat matched only by the UCLA teams of the 1960s and `70s.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that people take the streak for granted,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I think our fans do. I think nationally, it has not got the respect in a lot of ways it deserves. But I also understand that what gets most of the attention now is what you do in the postseason, as opposed to the regular season. I understand that.”

Still, the remarkable string of Big 12 titles means something at Kansas.

Step outside the home locker room, turn right and head toward the Phog’s floor. There is a graphic pasted on the wall that shows each of the 11 rings won by previous teams.

There’s enough diamonds to make Marilyn Monroe happy in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

“What these players have done over time, and with so many different combinations and all those things in what is arguably as good a league as there is in the country, it’s pretty remarkable,” Self said. “I’m real proud of it.”

It is difficult to put “the Streak” into proper perspective.

When it began in 2005 with a shared title in Self’s second season on the sideline, current Kansas freshman Carlton Bragg was 9 years old. The team was led by a senior guard, Aaron Miles, who these days looks resplendent in a button-down suit as part of the Jayhawks’ staff.

Twitter did not exist. Nor did the iPhone. Lance Armstrong was still a hero to millions, Barack Obama was still a young senator from Illinois and Pluto was still a planet.

“Faces have changed but expectations and results haven’t,” Self said. “That’s one thing that I probably take the most pride in is that the kids, regardless of who you lost, it’s kind of the next man up, and that mantra - they’ve delivered. I take great pride in the consistency.”

Especially at a program that is constantly losing players early to the NBA, including one-and-done stars such as Andrew Wiggins that leave massive voids to be filled each spring.

Three times, the Jayhawks have kept their streak going with five new starters.

“Nobody wants to be the team that doesn’t win the 12th year in a row,” junior guard Frank Mason III said with conviction. “That’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

Some years, Kansas has kept it going easily. Other years have been a struggle.

The first two titles were shared with Oklahoma and Texas, the latter coming after a 3-4 start. When the Jayhawks won it all in 2008, they tied the Longhorns for the league title and were the second seed in the Big 12 tournament due to tiebreakers. Kansas tied Kansas State for the championship in 2013, then won it outright with five new starters the following year.

During the streak, the Jayhawks went a combined 28-0 against former Big 12 members Nebraska and Colorado. They’ve never lost to Baylor at Allen Fieldhouse, where they are 87-5 against league foes the past 11 seasons. They are 31-6 against Oklahoma and Iowa State during that stretch, the teams thought to be the biggest threats to ending more than a decade of dominance this year.

“The reality is, year-in and year-out, we have had as good of players as anybody. And so when you have as good of players as anybody, you should win games,” Self said. “Certainly this year, though, you can make a case that the teams in our league are every bit as talented.”

The third-ranked Sooners, whom the Jayhawks face Monday night, are 11-0. The No. 11 Cyclones have lost just once. Ditto for No. 19 West Virginia, while No. 23 Baylor has lost only twice.

Even rebuilding Texas Tech (10-1) and Kansas State (10-2) are off to good starts.

“A key in my opinion of winning the league will be holding serve at home, which obviously is no lock. And, of course, you’ve got to steal some on the road,” Self said. “The other thing I think is going to be very important for players to understand - and coaches - is it’s a long grind.”

One that Kansas has understood perfectly 11 straight years.