Allen Fieldhouse | Lawrence, KS | Tip: 6:30 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
Vegas: Kansas -10 | Pomeroy: Kansas, 81-71
The Texas Longhorns sit all alone in second place in the Big 12 as they head to Lawrence for tonight’s matchup with Kansas. But at two games behind the conference-leading Jayhawks, tonight’s game is essentially make-or-break for Texas as it tries to earn a piece of its first Big 12 title since 2008. A loss at Allen Fieldhouse would put the Longhorns three back with four games to go, practically ensuring that Kansas would win at least a share of the Big 12 title for a 10th-consecutive season.
While the Longhorns took care of KU in Austin at the beginning of the month, winning at Phog Allen is an entirely different beast. In the last six-plus years, the Jayhawks are an incredible 54-2 at home in Big 12 play, with one of those losses coming at the hands of Texas in 2011. The margin for error is very, very slim for the Longhorns tonight if they hope to pull off the rare road win in Lawrence and stay alive in the title hunt.
Meet the Jayhawks
For a detailed look at the KU roster, check out LRT’s preview of the February 1st game between these two teams.
The First Meeting
Texas dominated things early against the Jayhawks in Austin, stifling Kansas’ interior attack in a first half where KU shot just 25.8% from the field. The Texas bigs stayed home and protected the paint, cleaning up dribble penetration and providing timely help when KU found space down low. Isaiah Taylor had the floater working in a masterful performance, repeatedly finding cracks in the Kansas defense and attacking quickly.
The Longhorns took a 15-point lead to the locker room and held a double-digit advantage the rest of the way. With Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid struggling for Kansas, Wayne Selden, Jr. flipped the switch at half and played much more aggressively in the second. He scored 21 points on the afternoon, knocking down 50% of his shots from the field.
Both teams did a fantastic job on the offensive glass, effectively negating the extra chances earned by their opponents. The Longhorns won 48.7% of their misses back, while Kansas reclaimed 40.5% of theirs on the other end. Although Kansas won the second-chance point battle by a 16-11 count, timely Longhorn putbacks were key to building a big lead late in the first half.
In the end, Texas knocked off the Jayhawks, 81-69, earning a fourth-consecutive win over ranked opponents. The Longhorns pulled to within one game of KU in the league standings and solidified their NCAA tournament résumé with a convincing win over the No. 1 team in the RPI.
Although the Jayhawks have struggled on the road this month, they continue to take care of business at home. Kansas dispatched a tough West Virginia team with excellent execution in the final five minutes and absolutely obliterated TCU in a second half where the Horned Frogs seemed content to just watch the Jayhawks waltz to the hoop.
Kansas suffered its only other conference loss in Manhattan on February 10th, but the team showed grittiness in a late-game comeback that forced overtime. The Wildcats led by nine with just 1:53 to go, but a key steal by Brannen Greene, free-throw problems for KSU’s Wesley Iwundu, and a huge, last-second putback by Wiggins on his own miss all led to an extra period of basketball. In the overtime, Kansas State managed to escape with a key home win, but Kansas proved their mental toughness in the frantic comeback.
Just four nights ago, it was again Wiggins who provided the heroics for Kansas on the road, but this time the Jayhawks didn’t ultimately lose. Down by one with 16 seconds left, KU fed Embiid on the block for a final chance. He was stripped by Tech’s Dejan Kravic, but Wiggins scooped up the loose ball in the lane and put it in for the winning bucket. With Texas losing at Iowa State on the same night, KU’s thrilling victory put them on the verge of winning yet another conference title.
Keys to the Game
1) Strong interior defense – Although Kansas has shooters, the Jayhawks have always been and will always be an inside-out team with Bill Self at the helm. The Longhorns didn’t choose to double-team Embiid or Perry Ellis when the teams met in Austin, yet still played very sound interior defense that frustrated KU all afternoon.
Texas will once again have to stay home in the lane, but must also avoid foul trouble in the frontcourt. Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh made key contributions in the earlier win over Kansas, but it’s obviously preferential to have Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley out there for as many minutes as possible.
2) Don’t settle for jumpers – Texas played right into Iowa State’s hands on Tuesday night, particularly Javan Felix, who took every open look that the Cyclones gave him. He shot 15 three-pointers and was just 27.3% from the field, although in a game where Texas was even missing point-blank shots, it’s tough to say that made a huge difference.
However, against a Kansas team with an imposing frontcourt, the temptation to settle for jumpers will again be there. Taylor did a good job attacking with the bounce against Kansas in the first game, and the Horns repeatedly found post players in the paint when the Jayhawks pushed out and denied dribble penetration. The Longhorns need to make the same commitment tonight to driving and to feeding the post if they want to have any chance to win. Having a player take 15 threes will be a recipe for disaster for UT tonight, unless Baylor’s Brady Heslip somehow transfers this afternoon and is immediately eligible.
3) Clean up the glass – The Longhorns didn’t do a great job on the defensive glass in the first meeting, but they balanced things out by winning nearly half of their own misses back. Texas must again be competitive on the boards tonight against a KU team that is ranked third in the Big 12 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. If the Longhorns are dominated on the glass on either end of the floor, the disparity will likely be far too much to overcome in a road environment where there is little margin for error.
4) Show poise under pressure – The Big 12′s three toughest road venues are Allen Fieldhouse, Bramlage Coliseum, and Hilton Coliseum. You can argue which one is second and which one is third, but Phog Allen is undoubtedly the toughest place to play. The Longhorns have gone 0-2 so far this season in those hostile environments, including a blowout loss at K-State.
If Texas is going to hang in this game long enough to have a chance for the upset, the team will have to withstand a few Kansas rallies. When the Jayhawks get cranking, Allen Fieldhouse is a cacophony of noise and emotion. If the Longhorns can fight through that and throw a counter, they might be able to give Kansas a good battle tonight. If they don’t, Kansas can turn it into a rout in a matter of seconds.