By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Now that Texas has defeated its biggest rival three times in the same season, the second-seeded Longhorns face a new challenge - beating Kansas twice.
The second-seeded Longhorns out-muscled and overcame third-seeded Texas A&M, 70-58, in Friday's second semifinal game in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men's Championship. Texas now faces No. 1 seed Kansas at 5 p.m. in the title game.
The Longhorns have reached the championship game five previous times and are 0-5. The last three losses came against Kansas, a team UT defeated in Lawrence on Jan. 22.
"It would mean a lot to us if we could just win, but I know it's going to be hard," Texas sophomore guard J'Covan Brown said. "Kansas is probably upset about what happened at their place."
Yeah, probably. The Longhorns' 74-63 victory ended Kansas' school-record 69-game winning streak and Allen Field House. The Jayhawks, though, won their seventh consecutive regular-season Big 12 title and are eighth Big 12 Tournament title and fifth in a row.
Texas (27-6) earned the right to try and end that streak by defeating the Aggies (24-8). All three of UT's victories over Texas A&M came by double figures. The two regular-season outcomes were by 21 and 20 points. The Longhorns had to work much harder for this one.
"They are really good, because we've gotten a lot better," Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon said. "And we played pretty well, especially defensively. We just weren't strong enough to rebound with them.
"Tristan Thompson, are you kidding me? How good that kid is. We're trying to box him out. He just jumps over you."
The 6-8 freshman helped give the Longhorns a 39-28 rebounding edge. Despite constant double teams, Thompson finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds - 10 on the offensive boards. UT had a 20-11 edge in second-chance points.
"Coach mentioned to us at the beginning of the game we've got to be really active on the glass and win the rebounding battle," Thompson said. "So I took the initiative upon myself to try to own the glass tonight."
Texas A&M made four of its first seven shots and took a 14-7 lead less than seven minutes into the game. The Longhorns responded with a 13-2 run. The Aggies, despite missing 13 of their last 16 shots, trailed just 30-24 at halftime.
Khris Middleton scored eight of A&M's first 12 points in the second half, with his three-point play putting UT's Jordan Hamilton on the bench with three fouls. Gary Johnson also was on the bench with three fouls and Texas was forced to play a strange lineup.
Brown, Jai Lucas and Cory Joseph were the guards with Matt Hill and Tristan Thompson up front. Brown made consecutive 3-pointers and Lucas scored a free throw and a runner on the same possession to help the Longhorns build a 52-41 lead with 10 minutes to play.
"I don't know that we've ever played that lineup with three guards," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "I don't know that we've ever been that small. We had to use everybody. And tonight it was a night that, again, it was a really nice team win for us."
When Hamilton returned he scored five points as the Longhorns blunted A&M's last push. His 3-pointer gave Texas a 57-50 lead and countered a 9-2 run by the Aggies.
In the first meeting with Kansas, the Longhorns overcame an early 15-point deficit and the partisan crowd at Allen Field House. Most of the 18,000 in the Sprint Center Saturday will be Kansas fans hungry for revenge.
"It's going to be like a home game for them," Hamilton said. "They're going to have their fans and they're going to come out hyped up. I think they're a great team."