AUSTIN, Texas – Well, now. The second half of the Big 12 Conference season beckons and the race is on.
No. 25 Texas brought Kansas back to the pack with a leave-no-doubt 81-69 victory Saturday in a sold-out Erwin Center. The No. 6 Jayhawks (16-5, 7-1) had trailed for just eight minutes in their seven Conference wins but fell behind in the first five minutes and never stopped the Longhorns’ stampede.
A week ago, Texas set a school record it its third consecutive victory over a ranked team. Make it four. Kansas, which had become the first team since 1997 to defeat four consecutive ranked teams, became the victim of UT matching the statistical oddity.
“We have some pretty good momentum right now,” said junior Jonathan Holmes, who had 22 points, three steals and three blocked shots.
“We’re a good team and we’ve earned where we’re at, but we’re not even halfway through the Big 12 season,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “Now you’ve got to be careful about drinking the ‘poison.’ The fun part is we’ll find out how good and tough we are, with people coming after us. … We’ll see.”
Throw a handkerchief and cover the top seven teams in the standings. Texas is in second place with a 6-2 record. Oklahoma is third at 5-3 and the next four teams – Kansas State, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State – all have four losses. Had Kansas defeated UT, the Jayhawks would have had a three-game lead over its closest pursuer.
Get your tickets now for the remaining games, folks.
“It was a pretty much a dominating performance,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose team faces another road game Tuesday – at Baylor, a team that knocked off Oklahoma State Saturday. “Texas was the hungrier team. When they come to our place (Feb. 22), we’d better be hungrier.”
Freshman Isaiah Taylor, who scored a career-high at Baylor a week ago, finished with a game-high 23. He set the aggressive tone for UT’s offense as the Longhorns finished with a 45-19 edge in free throws attempted.
“That was a big boy game around the rim,” Barnes said. “There were no easy shots. I’m really proud of how our big guys (Holmes, Prince Ebeh and Cameron Ridley) competed.”
Kansas came into the game leading the Big 12 in field goal accuracy (51 percent). Texas was second in field goal percentage defense (39.7 percent). The Longhorns “hit their number” by limiting KU 38.5 percent shooting.
“They have a big lineup,” KU’s Perry Ellis said. “We just weren’t making shots. It happens. We have to make up for that on the defensive end.”
Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, who averaged 24 points over his last three games, was limited to seven points and missed 10 of 12 shots – the worst shooting game of his young career. Demarcus Holland, a 6-2 sophomore, spent most of the game shadowing the 6-8 Wiggins.
“I had confidence by teammates would have my back,” said Holland, who hustled for a team-high 11 rebounds. “I thought he’d try to get to the foul line. Cameron and Prince had ‘em scared at the rim and he settled for jump shots.”
Holland chased down five of his rebounds on the offensive end with quickness and effort.
“He’s a competitor and he plays like that in practice,” Barnes said of Holland. “He was a big part of it. His teammates understand what he means to this game and this team.”
The Texas defense was particularly stingy over the last 15 minutes of the first half when the Longhorns took control.
After making their first four shots, the Jayhawks missed 23 of 27 shots over the final 17 minutes before halftime. Texas shot 44.8 percent in the first 20 minutes as it went to the break with a 38-23 lead. The Longhorns finished with 12 blocked shots and seven steals.
“They had us on their heels the whole time, we weren’t ready to play,” Self said. “They’re faster than we are, their speed offset our length. I thought we would play better. We didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Two plays in the second half illustrated how the outcome came to be.
Kansas trailed 47-34 with over 14 minutes remaining – plenty of time to rally. It appeared the Jayhawks would cut into the deficit when Ellis got the ball in the low post but Ibeh swatted the shot attempt – one of his four blocks.
On the offensive end, Holland blew past his defender from the free throw line for a sweet reverse layup and a 49-34 lead.
The bottom line of those two possessions: UT prevented easy baskets and the Jayhawks struggled to defend the Longhorns off the dribble.
“As a team, we didn’t play well and compete,” said Wayne Selden Jr. who finished with a team-high 21. “We came out flat, we came out dull.
“It’s a long season ... when you’re at Kansas you’re gonna get everybody’s best shot.”