Rush Comes Up Big

Kansas won a hard fought semifinal matchup with Texas A&M on Saturday afternoon. The Jayhawks will now face Texas in the Big 12 Tournament final for the third straight year.

Who said the postseason is easy? It sure hasn’t been so far for Kansas head coach Bill Self and his Jayhawks.

Brandon Rush provided a career-high 28 points, and Russell Robinson delivered the final knockout punch as KU advanced to its third straight Big 12 final by beating a pesky Texas A&M team, 77-71 on Saturday.

This was a much different game for KU than Friday night’s tussle with Nebraska. The Jayhawks were slow out of the gate against the Cornhuskers but on Saturday both teams played with fire for 40 minutes and answered each other with big play after big play. Every Kansas run was answered by the Aggies and though it felt like KU controlled the game for the most part, Mark Turgeon’s team impressed.  

Maybe no play epitomized the will of the Aggies more than Bryan Davis’ Hail Mary three that went off the backboard with the shot clock winding down. Prior to the three, KU had built an eight-point lead with eight minutes left. When the Aggies needed it Saturday there seemed to be a timely three-pointer to get them back in the game. Self’s team never could run away with this one like they did in College Station a week ago.

When Kansas needed a lift, it came from Rush. Brandon gave KU the lead on a three-point play with 17:31 left in the game, 40-39, and the Jayhawks never trailed again. Rush, who is from Kansas City, scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half and was 9-13 from the floor including 5-8 from three.

“I thought Brandon was as good today as I've ever seen him,” Self said. “We've seen him have some good performances. The thing that I am most proud about, that I like about
Brandon, is he didn't play at all yesterday. And for him to come back from that, you know, I think is a good sign for him and he needed -- I think you bring up a good point. He needs to have some breakout games when it counts the most. And certainly this is one of those types of games.”

“You know, when Brandon is playing well, everybody is playing well. And he got us off to great start. He hit great shots. He kept us in the game when we weren't doing too good on offense. Hopefully he can play like that more often,” said Robinson who gave KU a four-point lead, 75-71 on a driving layup late in the game.  

One difference between last week’s game and Saturday’s matchup with A&M was on the glass. In College Station, the Jayhawks pounded the Aggies on the glass (37-32), but that was not the case on Saturday where A&M had 35 rebounds and 16 of them came on the offensive glass. Conversely, Kansas grabbed just 25 rebounds and had only eight on the offensive end.

“The way we handled them in College Station was probably great motivation for them here because we were the better rebounding team in College Station. Today,
there's no question, they controlled the glass. I mean, numbers don't lie,” Self concluded.

Kansas has won eight straight Big 12 Tournament games and will play Texas in the finals for the third straight year. The Longhorns are a super tough matchup for any team because of how they can spread you out and drive you. Damian James and Connor Atchley can both step outside and shoot it making it tough on KU’s big men.

The lack of work on the glass in the semifinal is something that should send up a red flag for Kansas against a team that Self calls “the best team we’ve played all season”. One of Texas’ best assets is the work they do on the offensive glass. The Longhorns are well-equipped to survive a sub-par shooting night because of how aggressive they are on the offensive boards. It was pivotal in a matchup earlier this season between these two teams in Austin that resulted in a 72-69 Longhorn win. The Jayhawks were outrebounded in the second stanza 23-12

“They beat us the first time and the way they beat us was physically they handled us in the second half. So we'll be excited to play,” Self added.

“It is going to be a great game and they got some guys. They played us really well down there at home. We are just going to try to come out and play with a lot more intensity and be more aggressive this time around,” said Robinson.

This game tomorrow could be for more than Big 12 bragging rights. Everything has fallen into form for the winner of this game to earn a one-seed. UCLA, Memphis, and North Carolina all either won or reached the final in their conference tournaments. Tennessee slipping up to Arkansas in the SEC semis opens the door for one of these two teams.

“If we don't win, we won't get one. If Texas doesn't win, they won't get one. I think I can go that strong. But I don't see how the winner tomorrow wouldn't be under serious consideration to deserve one,” Self pointed out. “You know you look at the RPI numbers and things like that, I don't know if that's a true indication who the best teams are, but, you know, you would say if you just look at the RPI, that we may need a little help, both teams, to earn the No. 1.”

“But the bottom line is this - the best team in this league is probably going to be one of the best three, four, five teams in the country. And we get a chance to determine who that will be tomorrow. I'm not going to campaign for it or politic for it because nobody's going to listen anyway.”

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