Don’t get me wrong; I thought they were good before Saturday. By the same token, I wrote a couple of weeks ago that KU would be hurt by playing in the Big XII North.
I still don’t think playing in the North did KU any favors, but anyone who’s still doubts that KU could cut down the nets next month knows less about sports than Phog.net’s own Phogfan150.
Texas shot 57 percent from the field and an ungodly 11-of- 14 from behind the arc in the first half. Texas’ all-universe forward Kevin Durant could have turned his back to the basket, closed his eyes, thrown it back over his head from 25 feet and it would’ve gone. It was that kind of half.
Essentially the same team that looked like a deer in headlights against Bradley last March never showed a sign of panic. I never even saw a hint of frustration. They managed to take the best early knockout punch anyone’s thrown in Allen Field House in a long time. They went into halftime down 12, but they were still standing.
Brandon Rush said, simply, “We weren't concerned at all because there were still 20 minutes left in the game.”
According to Julian Wright, Self’s halftime message was simple: stay aggressive and crash the boards.
“Coach wanted us to attack the basket and put a lot of pressure on (Texas),” he said. “He told us we could get a lot of rebounds and a lot of easy baskets inside, so that was our point of emphasis in the second half.”
Kansas let Texas know that they weren’t going away by blocking two early Longhorn shots and immediately scoring. The Jayhawks were sharper, more focused. Passes were crisper, cuts were sharper and within two minutes, KU was only down five.
"We needed something good to happen early,” recalled KU coach Bill Self. “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. Mario (Chalmers) got hot and on a roll and we were just good.”
Kansas’ amped-up defense forced Texas to work hard for every basket. The shots that rattled around and fell for the Longhorns in the first half were rattling out and into the hands of a waiting Jayhawk – usually Wright or Rush.
By the time Durant left the game after rolling a tender ankle, Kansas had established a six-point lead and clearly had the momentum. Durant’s injury was probably more damaging to the Texas squad from the neck up than on the court.
My point – and I do have one – is, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve finally seen the maturation of this young-but-very-experienced group of Jayhawks. If so, that’s great news for Kansas fans.
I can’t remember a national champion – or even a final four team – who rolled through an NCAA tournament without dodging a bullet or two. So expect it: Kansas will face an opponent at some point that’s going to play over their heads. Since it’s the NCAA tournament, it will be a good team. Colorado and Iowa State need not apply. Barring being historical freaks, the Jayhawks will find themselves down double digits.
Saturday’s comeback win showed me that the Hawks may have finally grown up. They know adversity is coming. They know that having “Kansas” on your chest is like having a target on your back.
And if it comes on a night when Mario Chalmers isn’t on, Brandon Rush will be. If Rush isn’t, Wright will be. If Wright isn’t,…
This team showed Saturday that they’ve done a lot of growing up this season. This March, when someone with a puncher’s chance hits the Jayhawks with a Tyson-esque shot, I think they’ll be able to handle it.
It’s been a couple of seasons since I’ve been able to say that.