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
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
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
“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.”
Rush Comes Up Big
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