Through 35 or so minutes in Lawrence, Texas again looked like the team that owned a No. 5 ranking in early January. Over the game’s final five minutes, the Horns reverted to their form of the last two-and-a-half mediocre months.
Kansas turned a two-point advantage into a double-digit win in the closing minutes as Texas failed to take care of the ball while simultaneously going ice cold from the floor, missing everything from three-pointers to open jumpshots to lay-ups.
With the 83-73 win, the Jayhawks (25-6, 14-2) clinched the Big 12 regular season crown. The Horns (20-10, 9-7) fell into a four-way tie for fourth in the Big 12 and will play on the opening day of next week’s Big 12 Tournament for just the second time in Rick Barnes’ tenure at Texas. The No. 5 seed Horns will take on No. 12 seed Colorado at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday in Oklahoma City. Texas beat the Buffaloes in overtime, 85-76, in Boulder on Feb. 14.
The outcome in Lawrence is a disappointing end to a disappointing regular season for the Horns. With today’s loss, Texas, with everyone but D.J. Augustin returning from last season’s Elite Eight and Big 12 regular season co-championship squad, stumbled to a 9-7 league mark, tied for the worst conference record in Barnes’ 11 years in Austin.For the better part of the first half, though, it looked like Texas would perhaps play itself into sole possession of fourth place in the league and snap the Jayhawks’ 40-game home win streak. A Dogus Balbay drive and lay-up with less than two minutes to play in the first half capped an 18-4 Longhorn run to give Texas its largest lead of the game at 44-30. The Horns got to that point largely because of a monster first half from Damion James. The junior wingman hit eight of 10 first half field goal attempts, including two from beyond the arc. James scored 16 of the Horns’ first 22 points of the game and he finished the half with an even 20.The Jayhawks, though, cut that 14-point lead in half in the span of about 90 seconds to close out the half. A Connor Atchley turnover followed by a Dexter Pittman missed dunk (his second of the first half) helped KU’s cause, and Brady Morningstar’s three in the half’s final seconds gave Kansas all the momentum heading into the locker room. “I told the team at halftime that we lost a few possessions in the first half because we got away from what we wanted to do,” Barnes said. “We turned it over and allowed them to make some plays. In the second half they came out and went at us.”Texas held off the Kansas comeback for the first eight minutes of the second half before the Jayhawks tied it up at 56 with a Tyshawn Taylor drive and bucket with 11:35 to play. The Horns responded with five straight (four from Dexter Pittman), but Kansas answered right back with six straight to take its first lead since 7:30 to play in the first half, 62-61, with 9:10 on the clock. Texas regained the lead at the 8:15 mark on two James free throws (just his third and fourth points of the second half, all from the line) and tied it at 65 44 seconds later on two more James freebies, but that would be the last tie of the game as Kansas dominated down the stretch. James finished with a game-high 26 points but went 0-4 from the field in the second half while Abrams totaled just 10 points overall and went 0-7 and had two critical turnovers as the Jayhawks ran away in the final few minutes. Dexter Pittman scored 16. Sherron Collins led Kansas with 21 points. The Horns will return to Austin to regroup before heading north again to Oklahoma City for their opening game on Wednesday in the Big 12 Tournament.
Despite the loss, Abrams believes the team is improving heading into the post-season.
“I think that for the most part everybody is figuring out what they can do best on the offensive and defensive end,” Abrams said. “We are just bringing more effort. If we continue to play the way we have been and just continue to bring the effort, then everything will shape up for us.”