Texas shows grit but falls to No. 6 Kansas in Lawrence, 80-70

Steve Helwick

The Longhorns purchased a lottery ticket on Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

It didn’t cost much, but the potential reward was high. And like most lottery tickets, it didn’t cash in the Longhorns’ favor and was subsequently thrown away. But the purchase didn’t adversely hinder the team’s chances at striking gold with a NCAA tournament bid.

With freshman center Mo Bamba out with an injured toe, Texas expectedly lost, 80-70, to the No. 6 Jayhawks (24–6, 13–4 Big 12), who were fresh off of clinching a 14th straight regular season Big 12 title. The college basketball blue blood earned its ninth straight victory over Texas, while the Longhorns (17–13, 7–10) dropped their seventh road game in their last eight tries.

“Obviously, it’s a tough, tough environment to come into,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “Kansas was a highly motivated team today with a chance to win the Big 12 outright, and they played like it.”

After the previous game’s hero Kerwin Roach II nailed his second three of the game to catapult Texas ahead early, 13-11, the Longhorns slowly crumbled. The Jayhawks countered with a crushing 16-0 run.

Similar to the Oklahoma State game on Saturday, the Longhorns didn’t allow the double-digit deficit to phase them. Trailing 45-32 at halftime, Texas clawed back with its short-handed roster, trimming the deficit to as little as six points less than five minutes into the second half.

Sophomore shooting guard Jacob Young, who has seen a tremendous spike in playing time in junior guard Eric Davis Jr.’s absence, was a key player in shifting the momentum in Texas’ favor through his shooting and defense. Davis remains out while Texas investigates the findings of Friday’s Yahoo Sports report.

Young contributed a season-high 14 points, hauled in five rebounds and corralled three steals. Although Young brought a necessary spark to the tight rotation, the inability to contain Kansas in the paint ultimately put the Longhorns’ hopes of winning to rest.

“I thought our guys showed a lot of fight, particularly in that second half,” Smart said. “You can pick a couple different areas where we’re right there in the game to win, but we just weren’t quite tough enough, strong enough on the defensive end.

“We didn’t gather enough of those rebounds. We didn’t take care of the ball enough in that right situation. But our guys certainly played with great effort and great togetherness.”

As Bamba watched from afar, Kansas center Udoka Azubuike controlled the interior and posted 20 points on Texas’ defense. The 7-foot sophomore converted on his first 10 field goals, many of which were uncontested, powerful two-handed slams.

“Azubuike was terrific,” Smart said. “Remember last time, Mo did a really good job against him in the first half. But Azubuike had a heck of a second half. He’s really hard for anyone to guard. When you take Mo out of our lineup — (Dylan Osetkowski) guarded him some, Jericho (Sims) guarded him some — they tried to battle, they tried to fight, but Azubuike’s obviously a lot to handle.”

When Texas wasn’t allowing easy buckets in the paint, its players were often accumulating numbers in the wrong column of the stat sheet — fouls. The team’s leading scorer, junior forward Osetkowski, fouled out with 7:28 remaining in the game when Texas trailed, 69-54.

Freshman point guard Matt Coleman and freshman forward Sims collected four fouls apiece too, adding plenty of pressure on Texas’ best available players to avoid fouling out.

Instead of conceding in Lawrence, Texas outscored Kansas in the second half despite the fouls and missing Bamba and Davis. Smart hopes the Longhorns continue to play with this effort and mentality when No. 20 West Virginia visits Austin on Saturday for the regular season finale.

“The fight that we demonstrated in the second half, we’ve got to bring that at the start of the game on Saturday,” Smart said. “It’s an early game, but I don’t care when it starts. We have to make sure we have that level of aggressiveness and fight.”