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.
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, beat Kansas State for the third time this season.
"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 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."
The interest in Round 3 between the two teams resulted in a record crowd of 19,256.
The crowd was treated to a first half that would have made Bill Snyder and Charlie Weis proud.
Two of the best defensive teams in the country, Kansas and Kansas State made more blocks and tackles than layups and jump shots over the first 20 minutes. Both teams committed nine turnovers, and the Wildcats had just three assists while going 6 of 27 from the field.
"It was a low-scoring game," Rodriguez said, "because both teams were playing good defense."
Johnson and Naadir Tharpe each hit three-pointers during a 14-2 run by the Jayhawks, and a bucket by Kevin Young in the closing seconds gave Kansas a 24-16 lead at the break.
It was Kansas State's lowest-scoring half this season, and the second-lowest by Kansas.
"Today was probably the poorest we played all week offensively in the first half," Kansas coach Bill Self said, "but we look up and we're still up eight because we defended so well."
Kansas improved to 9-1 in Big 12 tournament title games. The Jayhawks improved to 6-0 this season at Sprint Center, which just so happens to be a host site for the NCAA tournament next weekend.
Might the Jayhawks carry a No. 1 seed right back to Kansas City?
"I think we're deserving to be in the discussion," Self said. "I think we'll be for sure one of the five or six most highly ranked teams."