Here We Go Again

This may not be the Sunflower Showdown or the Border Showdown. But make no mistake, KU and Texas is turning into quite a big rivalry.

The Jayhawks (30-3) and Longhorns (28-5) meet today for the Big 12 Tournament Championship at 2 p.m. in the Sprint Center in Kansas City. KU has beaten Texas in the last two tournament championships, while the Longhorns defeated Kansas in Austin, 72-69, last month on Feb. 11.

The two teams shared the regular-season conference title, so this game is especially meaningful for bragging rights. The winner also has a possible chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament; the Selection Show will be announce the seedings and pairings shortly after the game.

Texas is coming of a big 77-49 win over Oklahoma in the semifinals on Saturday, while Kansas nipped Texas A&M, 77-71. Guard A.J. Abrams led all scorers with 24 points versus the Sooners, including hitting seven of 12 three-pointers.

This is Texas’ fifth Big 12 final, and the Longhorns have yet to win the championship.

“They definitely feel like a rival,” said KU junior forward Brandon Rush. “We beat them the last (two) years in the tournament and they beat us (in Austin in February). ... We definitely want a rematch with Texas because they got us down in Austin.”

Two years ago, Texas also beat KU at home, 80-55, on Feb. 25, 2006. But the Jayhawks got the last laugh with an 80-68 victory over the Longhorns over two weeks later in the Big 12 Tournament Championship.

KU coach Bill Self will not address payback for today’s game. Instead, he’ll emphasize how Texas beat Kansas in Austin a month ago. The Longhorns dominated the boards during the second half (23-12);  forward Damion James was especially huge off the glass with multiple offensive put-backs. He had all 13 of his rebounds in the second half and also scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime.

Forward Connor Atchley had a big night as well with a team-high 16 points, including four of four from three-point range. Texas’ star point guard D.J. Augustin, though, shot just one of 13 from the field.

“We won’t talk about revenge,” Self said. “Our guys will understand that it’s going to be one of the more fun games they’ll play in their college career. You’re playing for a championship, it will be a great crowd, a partisan Kansas crowd, and the stakes are high. It will be a fun game.”

Rush is certainly hyped.

“I think (the) game will decide who the best team is in the Big 12,” he said. “We’re looking forward to that.”

Seniors Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun said a possible No. 1 seed is not on the minds of the Jayhawks. They just want a championship. And what else is on the line?

“Losing, that’s what’s on the line,” Jackson replied. “Nobody wants to lose. It’s not time to go home yet. I know Texas doesn’t want to lose and we don’t want to lose. We just have to go out there and play.”

Self said the “winner has a great chance of being a No. 1 seed. I really do. ...  I don’t know if that’s an ultimate goal of being a No. 1 seed, certainly putting you in the best position is.”

KU and Texas both got a boost as a potential No. 1 seed after Arkansas beat No. 4 Tennessee, 92-91, on Saturday night in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

Self, though, is obviously more concerned about his squad heading into Sunday’s final with Texas.

“I love our team, but I still have some reservations about energy level consistently,” he said. “Not that it’s poor because I don’t want to sound like they’re not trying. Energy is so important to us because it creates offense for us. Even (against A&M) in the first half, I did not feel the energy was there as much as it is at other times. It’s not from a lack of effort. But that right there is the reason we play well when we play well, it’s because we steal some easy points. Today, we didn’t steal as many easy points. We got a few, but not as many.”

Jackson also talked about the ‘E’ word regarding Sunday’s championship game.

“We’re going to have to be ready to match their energy,” he said. “It always comes down to the last possession. Both teams are going to be executing and playing hard, diving (for) loose balls. It’s going to be a physical game because everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to get the victory.”

Texas coach Rick Barnes has great respect for the Jayhawks.

“I’ve said all along, I think they’re the best team we played all year,” Barnes said.

Self thinks pretty highly of the Longhorns as well.

“I think it is pretty fitting that Texas and Kansas (are playing for the championship),” Self said. “I think these two programs have had the best seasons and I think it’s great for our league to have the two best teams get a chance to hook up and play on Sunday. You go back the last three years, there’s been some unbelievable plays and some unbelievable performances by guys on both teams. I would expect the same tomorrow.”

“That’s the best team we’ve played,” Self added. “And I’ll say the same thing (after the championship), regardless of outcome.”

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