Ready to take the next step

At 7:25 this cool and magical Saturday night in Kansas City, after KU beat Texas, 85-73, for its eighth Big 12 tournament title and fifth championship in the last six years, after the Kansas players hoisted their championship trophy to the heavens, and after the confetti rained from the Sprint Center rafters to the court, the Jayhawks finally did what they envisioned all year.

They cut down the net.

One by one, the Jayhawks (32-2) climbed the ladder and cut a strand as the fans cheered and celebrated. Senior guard Tyrel Reed, the Burlington, Kan., native who dreamed of playing for KU his entire life and had his first dunk of the year against UT, was the last on the ladder to cut off the final few pieces of net.

And it felt so good.

"It was awesome," Reed said. "We worked for it all year. Coach (Bill) Self was adamant that he wanted us to cut down the nets and celebrate and enjoy this moment. It was really fun. There's not a better group of guys that I'd want to do it with, and I'm just proud of everyone."

Reed had great reason to be proud of his team, which clicked on all cylinders against Texas. The Jayhawks hit shots, they rebounded, they defended, they scored in transition, they dunked, they blocked shots. KU simply wanted it more after losing to Texas in January in Lawrence at Allen Fieldhouse and seemed steamed that some observers still thought UT was the best team in the conference even though KU won the Big 12 regular-season championship.

Now after beating Texas again in the Big 12 tournament final (KU is 4-0 against UT in the championship game with wins also from 2006-08), Kansas left no doubt it's the premier team in the league.

So are the No. 2 Jayhawks the best team in the country?

"I'm not going to say we're the best team, that's for other people to decide," Reed said. "I think we have a really good team. We're definitely capable of doing really good things."

Senior guard Brady Morningstar also wasn't ready to proclaim KU tops in America just yet.

"You can't say that until the NCAA tournament is over," Morningstar said. "I don't want to get anybody jumping on anything. I think we're playing well. I think we played well today and that gives us some bit of momentum going into next week."

KU displayed the consummate team effort versus Texas with six players scoring in double figures, led by junior guard Tyshawn Taylor's season-high 20 points. Taylor, who received his first start since Feb. 19 after he was suspended two games and lost his job to Elijah Johnson, played his best game of his career.

Taylor shot 7-of-10 from the field and 2-of-2 from three-point range in 37 high-octane minutes. He was electrifying and speedy in transition giving his best impersonation of former KU All-American Jacque Vaughn. He also drove fearlessly to the hole in the halfcourt offense, and dished out five assists to just two turnovers.

"He was fabulous," Self said. "He played like a point guard should play. He initiated. He finished when he needed to. ... I thought his play was exceptional."

The Morris twins were also splendid again, combining for 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting, 15 rebounds, and three blocks. Morningstar was rock solid with 13 points and six assists, Reed had 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals, and sophomore forward Thomas Robinson came up big with 10 points and nine rebounds.

KU shot 56.9 percent from the field, held Texas to just 40.9 percent shooting, and played like men on the boards with a 38-33 rebounding edge.

Kansas, which led by 17 points in the second half, saw Texas rally to cut the margin to eight points twice. However, the Jayhawks responded each time and let the Longhorns get no closer.

Junior forward Marcus Morris said this was KU's best game of the year.

"Definitely. I think we kept our foot on the pedal the entire game, and that's what we need to do."

Even Self, who like most coaches constructively criticizes his team after impressive performances, had nothing but praise for Kansas.

"I was really pleased," Self said. "They're great kids. They try hard for the most part. Our focus was off the charts, compared to what it has been other times. That's the biggest reason (we played so well)."

After the net-cutting ceremony Saturday night, fans began filing out of the arena while still soaking in the moment. One father proudly told his son: "Jake, you'll probably remember this for the rest of your life."

Jake, wearing a KU blue shirt with red and blue beads around his neck, smiled broadly.

About 25 minutes later in the Kansas locker room, Markieff Morris stared at the Big 12 tournament championship trophy in the middle of the room with the net draped over the hardware and couldn't help but dream about giving Jayhawk fans like Jake some even greater memories by cutting down the national championship nets at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Monday night, April 4.

"It would mean 20 times more than cutting down these Big 12 Championship (nets) because this is what we do," Markieff said. "We're used to cutting Big 12 Championship (nets) and Big 12 regular-season (nets). That's normal to be here at Kansas.

"It would mean a lot more to cut down the net in the (national) championship."


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