KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Spurtability – a word you won’t find in the dictionary that is used by college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg to describe a basketball team’s ability to go on scoreboard-flipping runs.
Onions – a vegetable but also a term favored by analyst Bill Raftery to refer to a player’s on-court manliness in key situations.
Valentine – a holiday that helps sell flowers, chocolate and greeting cards but another Raftery saying that translates to heart.
All three could be applied to the Friday’s first semifinal in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship. Top seed Kansas and No. 4 seed Texas A&M had players that made plays worthy of onions and valentines.
The spurtability? That was all KU. The Jayhawks (31-2) recorded the 2001st victory in school history and coach Bill Self’s 200th at the school with a 79-66 victory over the Aggies. Texas A&M (23-9) played the first 30 minutes with a hard-edged determination but it wasn’t enough to knock off the nation’s top-ranked team.
“I thought we were great for 32 minutes,” Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. “My guys gave it everything they had. They executed. They defended. Give KU credit. When it was time to make plays, they made plays.”
The onions and the valentines belonged to Kansas point guard Sherron Collins (26 points, six assists, just one of his team’s 19 turnovers) and Texas A&M’s Donald Sloan and B.J. Holmes. Playing again without injured point guard Dash Harris, the Aggie duo combined for 36 points and twice drained shots on out-of-bound plays with the shot clock going down.
“Sloan’s a tremendous player,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the senior who scored 24. “He can go get you two points when you need it. A lot of teams don’t have that.”
Kansas does. Collins appears to have conquered the shooting slump that plagued him during February. In two Big 12 Tournament games, Collins has scored 45 points, made 14-of-17 shots and 6-of-12 3-pointers.
The Aggies were doing everything they needed to beat a No. 1 team for the first time in school history. They were flustering Kansas with their quick hands (forcing 17 in the first 25 minutes), they contained Cole Aldrich, they rebounded and they avoided foul trouble.
All those ingredients helped create at 47-38 lead when Khris Middleton made a 3-pointer ----- into the second half. Most of the 18,879 at Allen Fieldhouse East ... um, the Sprint Center, were restless and worried.
Teams with Final Four/national championship hopes need spurtability – the ability to control the scoreboard at key moments. Trailing by nine, Kansas turned their spigot from dribble to spurt.
An Aldrich layup was followed by consecutive 3-pointers (Brady Morningstar and Tyler Reed). That opened the floodgates. Before the water receded, the Jayhawks had made six consecutive 3-pointers (three from freshman Xavier Henry).
Kansas took a 56-55 lead when Markieff Morris scored down low off a Collins pass with 9:21 remaining. Turgeon called a timeout to try and quiet the crowd. Self countered by switching his team to a 2-3 zone.
“The zone probably saved us,” Collins said. “They’re a tough team, a tough match up especially when they play small.”
The Aggies missed 12-of-14 shots which was a poor counter to Kansas making 8-of-10.
“Instead of playing great the first ten minutes, we were great the last ten minutes,” Self said.
There was some chippy behavior by both teams over the last 10 minutes as the game’s fate switched. A double technical foul was called when the teams were heading to their benches and words were exchanged.
“We played angry and played smart at the same time,” Collins said. “They started it and it got us upset and we started playing.”
When Collins came out of the game with a victory assured, he veered toward the Aggies bench and appeared to say something to the assistant coaches. Collins said he was talking to someone behind the bench.
“I wasn’t sending a message,” Collins said. “It wasn’t anything personal. I saluted an A&M fan I saw in the stands that I ran into (Thursday night), she was pretty rude. There was a lot of jaw jackin’.”
Jaw jackin’ – a term for court talk that is often unprintable, even on a web site.