The talk heading into this clash of conference titans revolved around Kevin Durant, and just how good the Texas freshman is. All the compliments sent Durant’s way sure proved their merit in the first half of this one. Durant blistered Kansas for 25 first half points and dismantled any defender KU head coach Bill Self threw at him. First it was Julian Wright, and then Darrell Arthur, then Brandon Rush, even seldom-used Roderick Stewart got a crack at the ultra-talented freshman. None provided an answer for Durant who got any shot he wanted. Durant scored on pretty turnaround jumpers, bank shots, dunks, and deadly three-point shooting (5-5 from three in the first half).
We talked about Durant not having a 40-point game all year; he looked like he might get it in the first half!
“I thought for a minute in the first half (Kevin) Durant could get 60. He had 20 in the first 10 minutes,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self.
“We tried everything to guard (Kevin) Durant. We put Julian (Wright) on him, we put Shady (Darrell Arthur) on him, we put Brandon (Rush) on him, we put Rod (Stewart) on him. He's one of the best players that's ever played on this court and his performance today was incredible.”
“He's long and he's tall. All you can do is contest. Coach was telling us to make him put it on the ground and stay on him. We threw a lot of guys on him to try to give him some different looks,” said Julian Wright who spent a large part of the game guarding Durant.
The problem for KU in the first half wasn’t just Durant. He and his Longhorn teammates combined to shoot nearly 79 percent (11-14) as a team from three in the first half and over 57 percent from the floor. Those are numbers the Kansas defense is unfamiliar with. The first 20 minutes ended with the home team down 12, 54-42.
"I thought they had us on our heels the whole half. That was as good a half of offensive ball I think I've ever had a team play on us. With 11-for-14 on three-pointers, they were killing us. We forced a few turnovers and had one steal at halftime. We didn't do anything. If you go back and watch the tape, of the 11 threes that they made, I guarantee eight of them were pretty well guarded,” said Self.
Kansas found itself down as many as 16 points in the first half just trying to survive the Texas onslaught. When the buzzer went off at the end of the half, a 12-point Longhorn lead actually didn’t seem insurmountable.
“(A.J.) Abrams made shots and still at halftime we were only down 12. Twelve points in this game is two minutes because there were no shot clock violations today. We did go out better in the second half,” said Self referring to KU’s quick start in the second half.
Kansas came out determined in the second stanza and with only four minutes gone in the half, the Jayhawks had erased the 12-point deficit and took their first lead since they were up 4-3, a little over two minutes into the game.
“We needed something good to happen early. If it goes the other way, you're down 17 or 18 opposed to five. In two minutes, we had cut their lead from 12 to three. That was the difference,” Self pointed out.
KU’s defense was up to the challenge in the second half. Durant, slowed by an ankle injury, scored just seven points on 3-8 shooting, his talented teammates cooled off too. Texas shot just 36 percent from the floor in the half and was only 3-16 from three.
On offense, it was KU’s turn to get hot and the Jayhawks got a much-needed spark from sophomore Mario Chalmers in the early part of the second half.
“I thought Mario (Chalmers) was great and set the tone. He got hot and on a roll and we were just good.” said Self about Chalmers who finished with a team-high 21 points, including 5-5 shooting from three. “
Kansas may lack a superstar like Durant, but it proved in the second half why it can hurt you with numbers. Each one of Self’s starters scored seven or more points, but no one had more than ten (Mario Chalmers 8, Russell Robinson 9, Julian Wright 9, and Sasha Kaun 7). It was a balanced attack that shredded the Longhorns defense on 54 percent shooting including 5-7 from long range.
“They've got some really good players, but don't sleep on our guys either, Julian (Wright), Brandon (Rush), Mario (Chalmers),” said Self proudly. “Shady (Darrell Arthur), Sasha (Kaun), Sherron (Collins) and Darnell (Jackson) gave us great minutes off the bench. Russell (Robinson) played very well. There was some playing going on today."
As tough as Kansas was in the second 20 minutes, the Longhorns were just down three with seconds to play when D.J. Augustin’s three-point attempt was blocked by Julian Wright.
“That was a key block because I think he would have hit that if he would have got it off. Julian did an excellent job and he secured the ball and we hit some free throws,” said Chalmers about his fellow sophomore.
“We were good and they were good. It was a high level basketball game, the way it should be to decide the league,” said a happy coach Self.
Now, some numbers for you to chew on. Kansas actually kept Texas under 50 percent shooting for the game, which seems like a miracle after the first half. Why is that significant? Kansas finished the regular season without letting a single opponent shoot 50 percent or more. In fact, that’s now 37 games in a row, a streak that dates back to KU’s loss in Austin last season on February 25, 2006. Here’s another number that should tell you how good this team is defensively – Kansas has held 66 of its last 67 opponents under 50 percent shooting from the floor – those are amazing numbers.
During KU’s current win streak heading into today, it had not shot the ball particularly well from three (36.3 percent). The 11 threes made by the Jayhawks in this one ties a season-high.
Kansas has now out-rebounded opponents by double-figures in four of its last five games. The Jayhawks won the battle of the boards in this one 42-32 and were sparked by 13 offensive rebounds.