With NCAA tournament hopes looming, Longhorns travel to Lawrence, Kansas

Peter Sblendorio

Things were a lot different for Texas the first time it played Kansas late last month.

The Longhorns were 14–4, fresh off a blowout victory over TCU that pushed them to 3–2 against the Big 12. Sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor was back from the broken left wrist that caused him to miss 10 games; junior center Cameron Ridley was playing his best basketball of the season; in the midst of a two-game win streak, the Longhorns appeared poised to make a run at the top spot in the conference.

Leading by as many as five points with under 14 minutes remaining in the second half, the Longhorns looked in control against the Jayhawks. But it’s been a far different story ever since.

The Longhorns scuffled in those final 14 minutes against Jayhawks, scoring just 18 points to Kansas’ 36. They failed to rebound after that loss, dropping their next three, and, after a three-game win streak over the Big 12’s bottom feeders, they dropped three more in a row to fall to 6–9 in conference play — good for just eighth place in the Big 12, where they stand now.

With 17 wins on the season and just three regular season games remaining on the schedule, the Longhorns are firmly on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, so every game is crucial. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, Texas plays Kansas again Saturday — this time at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas, perhaps the toughest road venue in all of sports.

The Jayhawks are a perfect 13–0 at home this season, and they haven’t lost there since early last year, when San Diego State snapped the Jayhawks’ 68-game home win streak against non-conference foes. They’ve won 22 straight home games since.

A road win would provide the Longhorns with the signature win they’ve been searching for this season. They played close with Kansas in Austin last month, but the Jayhawks are a different team in front of their home fans, and this is a vital game for Kansas too.

The Jayhawks, who have won at least a share of the Big 12 for a 10th consecutive season, are 11–4 this season in conference play. Iowa State, Oklahoma and West Virginia sit just one game back of Kansas with three to play. While the Jayhawks control their own destiny, losing against Texas would complicate their road to an 11th consecutive Big 12 title.

The Longhorns’ once-promising season has plummeted since those final 14 minutes against Kansas back in Austin last month. They have a chance turn things back around this Saturday and keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, but, at Allen Fieldhouse, it figures to be anything but easy.