LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP)—Told it was going to be a rebuilding year, that they were too young, too inexperienced to win another Big 12 title, the Kansas Jayhawks never listened.
They knew the talent on this team, saw potential seemingly no one else could.
The defending national champions were right—and, boy, does it feel good to prove everyone wrong.
Sherron Collins led a second-half comeback with 21 points and seven assists, helping No. 9 Kansas complete its improbable run to a fifth straight Big 12 title by beating Texas 83-73 on Saturday.
“We were underdogs a lot, but we didn’t care,” Collins said. “We just wanted to come out and show everybody that we were capable of doing it. We responded well to everyone’s doubts.”
The Jayhawks (25-6, 14-2) felt they had backed into its share of the Big 12 title, finding out—by virtue of Missouri’s win over Oklahoma—after a lackluster 84-65 drubbing at Texas Tech on Wednesday. It just didn’t seem right to celebrate after playing the worst game of the season.
The Jayhawks left no doubt against Texas (20-10, 9-7), overcoming a bad stretch in the first half and pulling away in the closing minutes to extend the nation’s longest home winning streak to 41 games.
Cole Aldrich helped lead the rally, overcoming a 1-for-6 first half to finish with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Jayhawks, who won their 26th straight home finale and their ninth title in the 13-year history of the Big 12.
“The other times I’ve been here, I expected that we played poor if we didn’t win the league,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “This one, I wouldn’t have thought that. So to not only win the league, but to win it outright … speaks volumes for these guys and their maturity and how far they’ve come.”
Texas had won three of four and was hoping to get a bye in next week’s conference tournament by earning the fourth seed. Instead, the Longhorns blew a 14-point lead late in the first half and matched their worst Big 12 record (2005) in Rick Barnes’ 11 seasons as coach.
Damion James had 26 points, but took just four shots in the second half after he picked up two early fouls and Kansas clamped down defensively. The Jayhawks were even better against A.J. Abrams, Texas’ leading scorer, who had 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting.
The result was another loss in Lawrence, where the Longhorns are 0-9 all-time.
“They’re going to make a run. They’re a good basketball team,” Barnes said. “All I wanted to do was be in the position we were in with four minutes to go. We could have been in a better position if we made those shots. It’s a fine line.”
Kansas and Texas have had some memorable games in recent years, most of those tight, high-scoring shootouts with high stakes.
This one was no different.
Trading shots like it was a game of H-O-R-S-E, the Jayhawks and Longhorns combined to shoot 15-of-28 over the first 10 minutes, changing leads eight times.
Texas never slowed down, using an 18-4 run to go by 14 points late in the half, hitting 17 of 30 shots against the Big 12’s best defensive team. James was the catalyst, spotting for 3s, driving around bigger players, shooting over smaller ones. The junior had 12 points in the first 8 minutes and 20 by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting.
James just couldn’t keep it going. He picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of the second half—giving him three—and couldn’t get untracked after he returned, missing all four of his shots.
“Sometimes I hit my shots and sometimes I don’t, so I’ve just got to find other ways to score and help my team,” James said. “Tonight, I was able to hit shots but it wasn’t enough to help my team win so it doesn’t really matter.”
Kansas kept up with Texas’ hot shooting early, then went into a lull late in the first half, falling behind by 14 after Dogus Balbay scored on a layup with 1:40 left. The Jayhawks rallied with a mini spurt, trimming the lead to a manageable seven by halftime, then kept it going after the break, getting within 46-44 on a 15-2 run that spanned the halves.
Kansas finally got the lead back with just over 9 minutes left, going up 62-61 on a rebound slam by Markieff Morris that left the backboard swaying and Allen Fieldhouse shaking from the crowd noise. Texas stayed close for a little while, but the Jayhawks took over in the final 4 1/2 minutes, going up 78-71 on Tyshawn Taylor’s fastbreak dunk, never letting the Longhorns back in it.
Next up for the Jayhawks is the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City, where they’ll be the three-time defending champions. Young or not, it probably wouldn’t be wise to count them out for a fourth straight title.
“It’s certainly going to rank up there in my eyes,” Self said of the season. “I told my guys after the game: we’ve had a good year. We can’t take a good year away form this team, but in order for this to be a great or special year, we’ve got to play really well from this point forward.”