LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Rarely does Kansas step on the court and feel the least bit intimidated.
Then again, rarely do the Jayhawks face a 7-foot-6 center.
Hesitant to drive against UC Irvine big man Mamadou Ndiaye during a sluggish first half, the second-ranked Jayhawks eventually got on track, pulling away for a 78-53 victory Tuesday night in their final tuneup before pursuing a 12th straight Big 12 championship.
“We weren’t attacking,” said Perry Ellis, who led the Jayhawks with 14 points. “We needed to start driving, kicking it, getting it in the lane. We started passing it a little too much.
“The second half we just attacked,” he said, “and good things happened.”
The Jayhawks (11-1) trailed 26-22 late in the first half. But a 22-2 spurt spanning halftime allowed them to seize control, and a couple of big baskets by Ellis put Irvine (10-5) away.
“We haven’t played against length like that, and probably won’t again, but their zone was long, active,” Jayhawks guard Devonte Graham said. “It just took a little adjustment.”
Frank Mason III added 13 points and Brannen Greene contributed 10 for the Jayhawks, who have won 10 straight since blowing a second-half lead in their lone loss to No. 1 Michigan State.
The Jayhawks still have a high-profile non-conference game against No. 10 Kentucky in late January at Allen Fieldhouse, but they will first turn their attention to Big 12 play. They face No. 23 Baylor on Saturday before getting a visit from No. 3 Oklahoma two days later.
They will have to play better than they did Tuesday night.
Especially in the first half.
The interior size of the Anteaters gave Kansas fits most of the game, with Ndiaye and 7-2 Ioannis Dimakopoulos taking turns in the post. Ndiaye finished with 12 points with a couple of highlight-worthy blocks, while Dimakopoulos had 10 points.
After scoring the game’s first seven points, the Jayhawks initially struggled to keep the game the kind of up-tempo affair they favor. That gave the Anteaters’ big post players a chance to get down the court and set up on defense, and force Kansas into taking a flurry of outside jumpers.
On one trip down court, the Jayhawks missed three consecutive 3-pointers.
“The 7-2 guy didn’t even look tall after he was out there,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Ndiaye. “We didn’t come close to attacking the first half just because he was in the game.”
By the time Dimakopoulos hit his second 3-pointer, and Jaron Martin added a bucket a moment later, the Anteaters had built a 26-22 lead with 2:06 left in the first half.
The Jayhawks’ big run began quietly when Graham hit a 3 and Kansas managed to eke out a 28-26 halftime lead. But it was Ellis who came alive early in the second half, slithering and contorting his body around Ndiaye to score at the rim — despite giving up 10 inches.
Irvine coach Russell Turner grew so incensed that he let loose an expletive during a moment of quiet that was heard throughout Allen Fieldhouse. A few minutes later, Turner was so upset with the officiating that his complaints earned him a technical foul.
By that point, Kansas was well on its way to a 30th straight win at the Phog.
“I thought they played terrific. Give them credit, you know?” Turner said. “They jumped on us at the start of the game We withstood that — I was pleased with that. And the second half, it just seemed to me we weren’t able to generate that same kind of juice.”
Self indicated he wants to shorten his rotation, and eight guys played 10 minutes or more. But top prospect Carlton Bragg played 9 minutes and five-star recruit Cheick Diallo played 8, and the bench emptied with the game out of reach.
UC Irvine: Sun Bowl Invitational MVP Luke Nelson was 0 for 6 from beyond the arc and totaled eight points. … The Anteaters finished a stretch of seven of eight away from home.
Kansas: Mason had six assists. … The Jayhawks’ win streak is their longest since 2012-13, when they won 18 in a row. … Kansas had been averaging 88 points per game.