KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Travis Releford scored 17 points and No. 12 Kansas roared to a 78-41 victory over Washington State in the semifinals of the CBE Classic on Monday night.
Perry Ellis added 12 points and Ben McLemore had 10 for the Jayhawks (3-1), who built a double-digit lead in the opening minutes and never looked back.
“We did a really good job moving the ball the first half, and of course, we made shots, and everything looks better when you make shots,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
The Jayhawks play Saint Louis, a 70-49 winner over Texas A&M, in tonight’s championship game. WSU (2-2) will play Texas A&M in the consolation game at 4 p.m. today, but will be without starting guard DaVonté Lacy from Curtis High School, who injured his left knee, Cougars coach Ken Bone said.
Brock Motum had 14 points for the Cougars, but he didn’t get a whole lot of help.
Mike Ladd scored five points on 2-for-10 shooting from the field, while Dexter Kernich-Drew went 1-for-6 for two points, and the team hit only one 3-pointer in the second half as the Jayhawks pushed the lead beyond 40 points.
“We got down big, but we had goals within the team,” Motum said. “Never was it too far in the first half, but toward the end of the game it was.”
Washington State shot 29.1 percent from the field, went 4-for-22 on 3-pointers and committed 14 turnovers while recording seven assists.
The Cougars didn’t attempt a free throw until Motum converted a three-point play with 13 minutes to play in the game.
Relaford has earned a reputation for being a lockdown defender, and he was a key piece of the team that advanced to last year’s national championship game.
But despite showing scoring ability, Relaford’s never become one of the Jayhawks’ dependable offensive threats.
He was against WSU, hitting two 3-pointers in his 6-for-7 shooting from the field.
“The lid’s been on the basket, and then he comes out and drove the ball hard,” Self said. “He was probably our best performer throughout the majority of the game.”
While the veteran was taking care of his business, the Jayhawks’ talented freshman class was doing its part.
McLemore followed up a miss by Ellis with a thunderous dunk during their big first half and unveiled a silky-smooth outside jump shot.
McLemore opened the game with a 3-pointer, and added another moments later, as the Jayhawks shredded Washington State’s zone defense.
Elijah Johnson got into the act with a 3 later to give Kansas a 21-6 lead. The Jayhawks started 8-for-10 from the field, and wound up 5-for-10 on 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
“The plan was to keep them out of the paint as best we could, and to get a hand up on 3-point shooters,” Bone said. “We were hoping they weren’t confident hitting 3s, but they came out and made 3s, and made free throws and lit us up.”
Washington State tried to get back into the game behind Motum, last year’s Pacific-12 Conference scoring leader.
Motum scored six consecutive points to cut the Cougars’ deficit to 36-21, but the last basket with 6:44 until halftime represented the final points Washington State would score before the break.
“One thing we did better was we ran offense to score in the first half,” Self said, “rather than run offense to run it.”
Kevin Young made a couple of free throws for Kansas, Releford made a 3-pointer and Ellis got to work inside.
He stuck a put-back and twice down the stretch got to the foul line, where he was 6-for-6 in the first half, helping the Jayhawks close it with a 14-0 run.
Jeff Withey added a put-back of his own miss to make it 52-21 early in the second half, and Motum finally ended a 10-minute drought for the Cougars with his 3-pointer with 16:40 remaining.
Kansas pushed the lead to 40 before coasting down the stretch.
“You know, they got off to a great start and it never really ended,” Bone said.