KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Washington State allowed its game against Kansas to get out of hand so quickly Monday night that the Cougars were forced to start coming up with goals they could achieve.
Like try to outscore the Jayhawks between timeouts, or over the course of the second half.
They couldn’t even achieve many of those the way Kansas was playing.
Travis Releford had 17 points, Perry Ellis added 12 and the No. 12 Jayhawks roared to a 78-41 victory over Washington State in the semifinals of the CBE Classic.
Kansas built a double-digit lead in the opening minutes, pushed it to 50-21 by halftime and coasted the rest of the way.
“You know, they got off to a great start and it never really ended,” Washington State coach Ken Bone said. “They did a great job.”
Kansas will play Saint Louis, a 70-49 winner over Texas A&M, in Tuesday night’s championship game. The Cougars will play the Aggies in the consolation game.
Brock Motum had 14 points for the Cougars (2-2), but he didn’t get a whole lot of help.
The Cougars shot just 29.1 percent from the field, went 4 of 22 from beyond the 3-point line and committed 14 turnovers while dishing out just seven assists.
They didn’t attempt a free throw until Motum converted a three-point play with 13 minutes left in the game.
By that point, the result had long been determined.
“We got down big, but we had goals within the team that we wanted to chip back each timeout,” Motum said. “Never was it too far in the first half, but toward the end of the game it was.
Releford was a big reason why.
The senior has earned a reputation for being a lockdown defender, and was a key piece of the team that advanced to last season’s national championship game.
But despite showing scoring ability, he’s never become one of the Jayhawks’ dependable offensive threats.
He was Monday night, hitting two 3-pointers and finishing 6 of 7 from the field.
“It felt great,” Releford said. “I was able to just be out there and play. I got a few easy baskets early. That gave me confidence.”
While the veteran was taking care of his business, the Jayhawks’ talented freshman class was doing its part. Ben 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 hit two 3-pointers early as the Jayhawks shredded Bone’s zone defense.
“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. “In the past they’d made some, but they hadn’t this year. We were hoping they weren’t confident hitting 3s, but they came out and made 3s, made free throws and lit us up.”
Elijah Johnson added another 3-pointer to give Kansas a 21-6 lead, forcing Bone to call a timeout. The Jayhawks started 8 of 10 from the field, and were 5 of 10 from deep in the first half.
“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.
Washington State tried to get back into the game behind Motum, last year’s Pac-12 scoring leader. He scored six straight to keep the Cougars within 36-21, but the last basket with 6:44 left represented the final points Washington State would score before the break.
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 of 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.
“I think we’re tough. So far we have been,” Releford said. “There are things we can do out there to show our toughness, but so far we’ve been doing alright.”