After tough loss to Kansas, Texas scrambles for spot in NCAA tournament

Peter Sblendorio

With hopes of an NCAA tournament berth hanging in the balance, Texas men’s basketball came close to pulling off an improbable victory in college basketball’s toughest road venue Saturday.

But, as it almost always seems to do, No. 8 Kansas once again found a way to win in front of its home crowd. 

Now, with just two games remaining on the schedule, Texas finds itself in jeopardy of missing the tournament for the second time in three seasons.

The Longhorns will fight Monday to keep their postseason hopes alive when they return home to face Baylor, which handed them their worst loss of the season last month in Waco. For a chance at redemption versus the Bears, Texas will need to quickly put Saturday’s tough loss in Lawrence, Kansas behind it.

The Longhorns led well into the second half in the 69–64 loss to the Jayhawks, leading by as many as 6 points with under 10 minutes remaining. But Kansas got hot from the field and the free throw line late, closing the game out with a 16–10 run in the final 6:52 to ice the victory.

Kansas junior forward Perry Ellis was at the forefront of that second-half surge, scoring 12 points in the final 9:30 of the second half. He finished the game with 28 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks. It marked the third consecutive 20-point game for Ellis, who has emerged as a front-runner for Big 12 Player of the Year.

Texas missed on a couple of opportunities late to tie the game. With Texas trailing 66–64 with 48.3 seconds remaining, sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor missed the front end of a one-and-one. Then, with the score the same and 6.1 seconds remaining, Taylor missed an off-balance layup attempt on a play in which he appeared to be fouled — though the referees didn’t call it.

Taylor led the Longhorns with 17 points and eight assists to go along with six rebounds, but the final minute didn’t go as hoped.

Despite Ellis’ impressive game, the Longhorns turned in one of their better defensive performances of the season. They held Kansas to just 36.2 percent shooting from the field and, remarkably, limited the sweet-shooting Jayhawks to just one made 3-pointer in eight attempts.

Texas’ interior defense was especially impressive. Freshman forward Myles Turner racked up five blocks in the game, while junior center Prince Ibeh had four. Texas had 14 blocks in the game.

With the victory, Kansas improved to a perfect 15–0 at home this season. The Jayhawks have now won 24 consecutive home games, and improved to a remarkable 189–9 at Allen Fieldhouse under head coach Bill Self.

The Longhorns dropped to 17–12 on the season and 6–10 in conference play with the loss. A victory would’ve greatly improved their résumé as they try to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament, and now, with just two games remaining, they’re very much on the bubble to make the Big Dance.

A win over Baylor might at least keep Texas in the discussion for a NCAA tournament berth. A loss at home to the Bears, however, would damage their postseason hopes even further.