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March 17, 2013

Title goes to KU

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One by one, Kansas players headed to the top step of the ladder to cut down the nets, with Jeff Withey carefully nipping at a piece of nylon and then waving it to the roar of the fans.

There was no way the Jayhawks were going to share this celebration.

No way they were going to share this title.

Withey had 17 points and nine rebounds Saturday night, and the seventh-ranked Jayhawks used their trademark suffocating defense to beat No. 11 Kansas State 70-54 and win the their ninth Big 12 tournament championship — not to mention the tiebreaker over their regular-season co-champs.

“I felt like this game had to be played,” said the Jayhawks’ Elijah Johnson, smiling. “I think we fed into it, and I think they did, too, and at the end of the day, it was a championship game, and I felt it had to be played for this to be decided.”

There should be no argument any longer over the best in the Big 12.

The Jayhawks (29-5), who may have locked up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with the victory, beat Kansas State for the third time this season. They’ve also won their last 11 meetings in conference tournaments, and 39 of the 42 games played since the inception of the Big 12.

“I think how this season played out this year, I think it means a lot,” Kansas guard Travis Releford said. “And our fans, they have a lot of bragging rights now that this game is over.”

Rodney McGruder scored 18 points despite a poor first half, and Angel Rodriguez had 10 for the Wildcats (27-7), who still have not won a conference tournament in more than 30 years.

“I just wanted this victory very badly,” McGruder said quietly. “We worked so hard, worked so hard to get here, just to let it slip.”

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