For All the Marbles

KANSAS CITY, MO. — Shortly after Kansas beat Colorado, 90-83, in the Big 12 tournament semifinals Friday night at Sprint Center, KU coach Bill Self asked his team who they'd rather play in the championship game — Texas or Texas A&M.

"We all said Texas," junior forward Marcus Morris said, "so we're going to be ready."

KU got its wish after Texas beat the Aggies, 70-58, in the second semifinal game on Friday. The Jayhawks and Longhorns will now battle for the tournament title at 5 p.m. (CT) today on ESPN.

This will be a rematch between the No. 2 ranked Jayhawks (31-2) and No. 10 Longhorns (27-6) from their game in Lawrence on Jan. 22, when UT beat KU, 74-63, and gave the ‘Hawks their first loss of the season after opening the campaign 18-0 and ended their 69-game homecourt winning streak.

"I'd say it's well-waited," Morris said. "We've been waiting for a while to play against those guys."

KU was undergoing some severe hardships during the first meeting after teammate Thomas Robinson's mother, Lisa, died the previous night on Jan. 21. The Jayhawks, who grieved with Robinson until the late hours, opened the game against Texas with a 10-0 lead and played on pure emotion and energy the first 10 minutes.

KU, which led 35-23 at halftime, ran out of gas in the second half and shot just 26.7 percent the final 20 minutes. UT, meanwhile, shot a scorching 63.6 percent in the second half and dominated the glass for the game, 42-33. Sophomore guard J'Covan Brown scored a game-high 23 points as the Longhorns upset Kansas.

"We can't make any excuses, but we had a lot of things going on," Morris said about Lisa Robinson's death. "We came out and played with a lot of emotion early. In the second half, we were all drained out. That's just what happened."

Expect both teams to play charged for 40 minutes today in what is becoming a familiar Big 12 tournament championship game. The teams have met in three of the last five tournament title games (2006-2008) with KU winning each time. Kansas, which has won a league-best seven Big 12 tournament titles, has claimed four of the last five tournament championships.

Texas, meanwhile, has never won the Big 12 tournament.

"I think it would mean a lot to us," Brown said. "If we just go out there, just have fun, like coach (Rick Barnes) said, just playing for each other, and just executing what we do, everything else will take care of itself.

"It would mean a lot to us if we could win, but I know it's going to be hard," Brown added. "Kansas is probably upset about what happened at their place, so they're going to come out and just try to fight a whole lot, try and outrebound us and everything."

This could be a classic battle of the two best teams in the conference and two of the premier squads in the country. KU won the Big 12 regular-season crown at 14-2 while UT finished second at 13-3. Kansas has won seven straight games, while Texas has won three straight after dropping three of its previous four games.

UT advanced to the championship game today by first beating Oklahoma, 74-54, Thursday in the tournament quarterfinals and then beating A&M Friday. Jordan Hamilton, the star sophomore swingman and first-team All-Big 12 pick (team-leading scorer at 18.6 ppg), paced four Longhorns in double figures versus the Aggies with 17 points. Forward Tristan Thompson, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, also came up big with 14  points and 13 rebounds. He's averaging 17.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks over the last six games.

KU knows it will have to play one of its best games of the year to beat Texas, the top rebounding team in the Big 12.

"It's going to be a big game," senior guard Tyrel Reed said. "We got to rebound. They obviously got a good frontcourt with Tristan Thompson and all those guys. And also they got good guards. We got to keep them (in) front and keep them from penetrating and creating for those bigs and contest their shots. Just play good defense is the key."

While KU has secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Jayhawks insist there's a lot at stake today.

"It's definitely a pride thing," Reed said. "We won the Big 12 (regular-season championship) and we want to show we are the best and try to win the Big 12 tournament. Any time there is a game, you got to step out there and compete and play, and that's what we need to do."

And KU will also be looking for some sweet revenge from its loss to Texas in January at Allen Fieldhouse.

"I feel it's like a payback game," Morris said.

BARNES PRAISES JAYHAWKS

Texas coach Rick Barnes has high praise for Self and KU.

"We have to play a great basketball game against a great team," Barnes said. "I'm not sure anybody's got any harder job than Bill Self. I think he's done a great job. He's in a program, great tradition, great history, great fans, fans that expect to win every game and be pretty doing it.

"I have great respect for him. I have great respect for their players, the fact that, again, when you're as good as they are and the tradition of their program, you've got to be ready to play every night."

MCMORRIS ON THE GLASS

Marcus Morris, who is averaging 7.3 rebounds this season, is hitting the boards hard lately. He's averaging 11.3 rebounds in his last three games. Morris had nine offensive rebounds against Oklahoma State on Thursday and six offensive boards versus Colorado Friday.

"I'm just trying to get in open spots," Morris said after KU's victory over the Buffaloes. "Early in the season, I wasn't really a big offensive rebounder. I feel like now teams are starting to fall asleep on me a little bit, so I think I'm getting open and picking my spots."

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