KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As warm-up acts go, this one was luke warm.
Asked to assess his team’s 80-68 victory over Texas Tech Thursday, Kansas coach Bill Self had a one-word response: “Pass.”
Self eventually was more loquacious regarding the top-ranked and top-seeded Jayhawks’ victory over the ninth-seeded Red Raiders in the quarterfinals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship. But for a team with national championship aspirations, it was an off-Broadway performance.
“We have Kansas all it could handle,” Texas Tech’s Mike Singletary said. “We were right there with ‘em.”
Indeed, the Red Raiders (17-15) played their second solid game in as many days. And the Jayhawks continued their history of struggling in their debut game of the Big 12 Tournament. Kansas will face No. 4 seed Texas A&M, a 70-64 winner over No. 12 Nebraska, in the semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday.
In the first half, Kansas (30-2) missed 11 shots from close range – layups, drives, low post moves. And point guard had a senior moment (the AARP kind) when he picked up his third foul while committing the sin of fouling a player shooting a 3-pointer. He spent the last 4:14 of the half on the bench.
“They played better than us in the first half,” said Self, whose team scored on just five of 12 transition opportunities in the first half. “Our energy level wasn’t very good. We’ve got to have energy to look good.”
The Jayhawks had difficulty defending Texas Tech’s motion offense. Senior Darko Cohadarevic pulled Kansas center Cole Aldrich away from the basket and hit jump shots, finishing with 14 points.
“It was a struggle,” said Aldrich, who finished with 12 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots. “We didn’t defend ‘em at all in the first half. We’ve got to have energy and move our feet on the defensive end.”
That effort didn’t arrive until the final six minutes.
After turning it over on an Aldrich travel, the Jayhawks took a nap. John Roberson took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor. His basket made it 65-63 with 5:55 remaining.
“It was a dead ball, they threw it in quick and we kinda fell asleep,” Aldrich said. “The crowd kinda gasped ... you know, we’ve got to prevent that sort of thing. That’s something that can really hurt us in the future.”
Roberson was fouled by Aldrich but he missed what would have been a game-tying free throw. After a Kansas miss, Roberson had a mid-range jumper that could have given the Raiders the lead.
“I put the blame on me,” said Roberson, who finished with a team-high 17. “If I would have hit those shots, it would have changed the game for us.”
The game changed for Kansas when Collins and freshman Xavier Henry hit 3-pointers on the next two possessions to stretch the Jayhawks’ lead to 71-63. And other than Roberson’s basket, Texas Tech managed just two field goals the rest of the game.
“They’re so solid in their half-court defense,” Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said. “You drive the ball, Cole is there to help, they help in the post and the rotate well. We missed some shots but good defense forces teams to miss shots. It caught up to is.”
Only two teams have “caught up” to Kansas this season. The Big 12 Tournament is the last place where loss can be forgiven. When the Jayhawks leave the Sprint Center, it’s one-and-done time.
“This time of year, you have to build your own energy,” said Collins, who finished with a game-high 19 points and added six assists. “It only takes a few possessions and you can go home. This was (an NCAA) Tournament-type game.”