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Jayhawks and Cowboys collide in critical Big 12 battle

<p>A Top 25 showdown is set for Saturday afternoon, as the 15th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks play host to the ninth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys in a key Big 12 battle at the Allen Fieldhouse.</p>

Lawrence, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - A Top 25 showdown is set for Saturday afternoon, as the 15th-ranked Kansas Jayhawks play host to the ninth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys in a key Big 12 battle at the Allen Fieldhouse.

The nine-time defending conference champions are off to another strong start to league play. Bill Self's Jayhawks suffered back-to-back losses in early December, but the team has lost just once in the last seven games and has run the table in Big 12 action thus far, with a three-game win streak, including a huge 77-70 road win at nationally-ranked Iowa State on Monday.

Travis Ford's Cowboys enter with their own three-game win streak in tow. OSU dropped its Big 12 opener to Kansas State, but hasn't lost since, moving to 3-1 in conference play with Wednesday's 82-50 rout of TCU.

The Jayhawks hold a significant 107-54 edge in the all-time series with the Cowboys and have won five of the last six meetings. Kansas is 58-11 in games played in Lawrence and 43-9 at the Allen Fieldhouse.

All-American Marcus Smart was once again the driving force in an OSU victory, as the Cowboys made light work of the Horned Frogs this week. Smart finished the game with 24 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Three other Cowboys reached double digits as well, as Markel Brown (14 pts), Le'Bryan Nash (13 pts) and Brian Williams (10 pts) all got into the act.

A dangerous team at either end of the floor, Oklahoma State enjoys a strong 20.2 scoring margin, averaging 84.8 ppg, while allowing just 64.6. Smart has his hands in several facets of the game, leading in scoring (17.9 ppg), assists (4.2 apg) and steals (43), while also grabbing his fair share of rebounds (5.5 rpg). Brown is similar in his ability to both score (16.6 ppg) and rebound (5.2 rpg). Nash (13.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg) adds balance up front, while Phil Forte (12.0 ppg) provides valuable depth off the bench.

A potent offensive squad, Kansas averages a robust 78.9 points per game, while pacing the Big 12 in field-goal percentage (.500). The team holds a +10.2 scoring margin, as well as an impressive +7.6 rebound margin. The Jayhawks do the little things well also, ranking second in the Big 12 in assists (15.9 per game) and blocked shots (6.3 per game). Freshman star Andrew Wiggins leads a quartet of double-figure scorers at 15.8 ppg. Perry Ellis is next in line at 13.3 ppg, but it has been another freshman, center Joel Embiid, who is starting to assert himself as a dominant low post player. Embiid averages 10.9 ppg on 67.7 percent shooting, while leading Kansas in both rebounding (7.4 rpg) and blocked shots (41). Wayne Selden Jr. rounds out the top scoring threats on the roster at 10.1 ppg.

It was a couple of career performances that led to the big road win in Ames this week for Kansas. Naadir Tharpe poured in a career-high 23 points to pace the team. Wiggins recorded a double-double with 17 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, while Embiid just missed his own, posting 16 points and nine boards, while blocking five shots. KU shot just under 50 percent in the game, while limiting the usually explosive Cyclones to a mere .314 shooting effort.

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