One of the keys we talked about prior to this game was matching Texas on the boards. Kansas didn’t even come close in this area and was out-rebounded 36-19. The Jayhawks were a physical mismatch for the Longhorns. KU’s big men were thrown around like rag dolls by a stronger, more experienced Texas team. The Jayhawks were out-toughed in this one on the glass and chasing loose balls.
Julian Wright, Sasha Kaun, C.J. Giles, Darnell Jackson combined for seven rebounds and Wright contributed a big zero in this area. LeMarcus Aldridge, Brad Buckman and P.J. Tucker combined for 25 rebounds. Kansas set team lows for the season in rebounding, defensive rebounds, and blocks.
We talked about matching up with the 6-10 Aldridge and the 6-5 Tucker. For one half, Brandon Rush shut down Tucker. The junior managed to score only two points in the first 20 minutes. But Tucker was patient, never forced the issue, and dished out five dimes in the first half.
Aldridge on the other hand, showed off the reasons that the NBA will be a viable option at the end of the season. I can’t imagine him slipping outside the top 5 spots in this year’s draft if he decides to go. Aldridge shot over anybody KU put on him and went 9-10 from the floor, for 18 big points. He set the tone for Texas in the first half and played well every minute he was on the floor.
Texas also got a surprising lift from their bench in the first half. We didn’t mention it prior to the game, but bench points haven’t been easy for Texas to come by. Rick Barnes got a terrific performance from guard A.J. Abrams who went 4-4 from three-point range and helped give the Horns a nine-point advantage at the half (36-27).
In fact, if you’d have told me P.J. Tucker and Daniel Gibson would’ve combined for two first half points, I’d have told you KU would’ve been in really good shape. But that was not the case.
By the time the second half started, Tucker and Gibson were ready to get into the mix. Gibson finished with six points and four assists, while Tucker exploded for 17 second-half points. In fact, other than Tucker’s five turnovers, his line was very impressive (19 pts, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals) and is the reason he is one of the conference’s best players.
Conversely, KU’s best player Brandon Rush suffered a nightmare performance. Rush didn’t suffer the “oh-fer” he was threatening to, but he managed just three points and they came with 11 minutes left in the game. The Erwin Center was a house of horrors for the Jayhawks leading scorer who went 1-8 from the floor in 30 ineffective minutes.
We talked about KU’s half court defense leading the nation in field goal percentage, but Texas overcame that obstacle and became the first team to shoot better than 47 percent against Kansas this season (55.1). It was an impressive display by the Horns from every position on the court.
On the other side of the ball, Barnes mixed-and-matched defenses and the 2-3 zone really gave the Jayhawks problems. KU looked confused, was impatient at times, and failed to penetrate the interior of the zone. Wright was the lone offensive bright spot for Kansas with his game-high 18 points but overall this was a poor shooting night for Self’s team. The Jayhawks missed some open looks and were cold from three finishing 4-15 from long distance in this one. Credit the Longhorns “D” in this one, Texas did a wonderful job closing out on open shooters and nearly every shot seemed contested.
We pointed out that turnovers would again be key in this game. KU had 15 turnovers that really seemed like 30, and resulted in 22 Texas points. The freshmen Wright and Rush combined for nine of those. Off the 15 turnovers, 11 of them were off of Texas steals.
The Jayhawks have been thriving on turning their opponents over and turning them into easy buckets – that didn’t happen Saturday. Kansas had four fast-break points and never got a transition game going to help jump start a stalling offense.
It all resulted in the worst loss in the Bill Self era at KU – yes, it was even worse than the Villanova game last year. I thought another thing that hurt Kansas in this one was the use of the bounce. I really thought the Jayhawks were trying to play too much one-on-one. Trying to beat quick, athletic Texas defenders off the dribble can make for a long night, and it did in this one.
Losing by 25 in a spotlight game with such high stakes is never fun. But there’s still a lot for Kansas to play for this year. The Jayhawks need to take care of business in their last two games and hope they get some help.
While watching this one, I couldn’t help but think of the two games in January got away. Had the Jayhawks put away Kansas State and held on against Missouri – this loss wouldn’t have mattered at much. Looking back and second-guessing doesn’t do anyone any good. Now Kansas needs to move forward and learn from its mistakes. If KU can do that, who knows what type of success will come in March.