You can be sure of one thing when the name says "Texas" across the front of the jersey and on the other end of the court the name says "Kansas" it will be a 40-minute war. The games between the Horns and the Jayhawks over the last few years have been some of the most hotly contested in college basketball, frequently deciding championships. So don't worry about Texas' recent slide – it's irrelevant.
Texas is one of the most talented teams in country but its recent slide
has been well-chronicled. Maybe no game was more shocking than
Saturday's contest at Oklahoma. The Sooners busted open a tight first
half with an amazing 18-1 run. Maybe even more surprising was the fact
OU did it all without much of a contribution from Willie Warren. Maybe
the Horns were looking ahead, maybe they couldn't match the emotional
inspiration provided for the Sooners when the late Wayman Tisdale was
honored prior to opening tip. Or maybe Texas is just struggling.
"We'll watch that tape tonight," KU head coach Bill Self said referring
to the 80-71 loss Texas suffered at OU. "They'll play so hard against
us on Monday. They'll play hard because this is a game that can kind of
right their ship. I think our guys will compete too, but I'm not real
happy leaving the locker room today; but I'm excited about Monday."
The Longhorns are not playing up to their capability they've lost four
of their last six after vaulting to their very first number one
ranking. A big Achilles Heel for Texas appears to be free throw
shooting. Texas ranks 317th in Division I and on Saturday went 10-27
from the line. Head coach Rick Barnes commented after that he had to
believe there were "junior high school teams that could do that", there
is clearly frustration in Austin.
On Monday you could hear that frustration in Barnes' voice in a meeting
with the media. He was concerned about the shot selection of his team,
its defense, and how Dexter Pittman was playing. But he also spoke with
great conviction that Texas could and would fix its woes.
"I wasn't surprised that they started so fast," said Self when asked to
reflect on the Longhorns start vs. their recent slide. "When you play
good teams on the road you're going to lose some. That's what I can't
get from my vantage point that is lost in all this. Heck our national
championship team lost three games in league. That happens when you
play good teams especially away from home."
Texas is 12-1 with the lone blemish coming at home in overtime to
Baylor, a team Self reminded us nearly beat KU in Lawrence this season.
It appeared Texas began to turn a corner in the second half against
Okie State. Turns out it was not the pole vault the Horns needed. But
no time like the present for Texas to get it together and find a way to
stop the bleeding. The Longhorns almost surely need a win on Monday
against KU to get help them get back in the race for a Big 12 title.
"I'm sure they're thinking with our road schedule - they think that
maybe they can get some help just like we've gotten a little help from
some teams that have played Texas. K-State is right there. If I'm not
mistaken Missouri is right there too with all three losses. It's kind
of jumbled around right now and this thing is a long ways from being
over. They'll be hungry to play not just because of the league race but
because its Kansas-Texas just like we will be too," said Self.
Like Self, when Barnes looks down the bench there is no shortage of
options. Depth is one of the many strengths of this Texas team. Eight
players on Barnes' roster average 17 minutes or more.
"I think their team speed is great. I think (Dogus) Balbay is probably
the best athlete in our league and he doesn't get the credit he
deserves from an athletic standpoint," said Self praising the Horns.
"They can throw bigs at you, they have a perimeter. They've got guys
that can score, and they've got guys that are really fast."
"They've got a heck of a team. It's going to be one of those games
where you look back and say it was a hard fought, fun, just kind of a
normal Kansas-Texas game," said junior Cole Aldrich.
When Phog.net asked KU head coach Bill Self about the keys to Monday's
matchup he answered quickly and succinctly, "handling pressure and
board play." Those keys were probably heard just prior to playing
K-State who also excels in those categories. But KU will have its hands
full keeping a hungry Texas team that leads the league in rebounding
off the glass.
"Handling pressure and rebounding the ball," said Marcus Morris echoing
his coach's keys. "They're going to eat us up. They're going to try and
get the ball out of Sherron's hands and make our other guys be players.
They're going to try and eat us up. We'll hopefully be prepared for
that and when the ball is on the glass, you've got to go get it."
They just happen to be two areas where KU has shown weakness at times.
The Jayhawks are coming off Saturday's closer-than-they-wanted win
against Nebraska and out-rebounded the Cornhuskers by just one (36-35).
If KU fails to compete on the boards and does not value the basketball
Monday it will be a long trip to Austin.
"That was a pitiful performance today rebounding the ball playing
against a team that played bigger today, but certainly for 15 to 20
minutes of the game played with four guards. So we've got to be much
better in those areas," Marcus analyzed.
KU has won five of the last six meetings with Texas but the Horns have
taken the last three in Austin. In 2004, Texas won 82-67, in 2006, it
was no contest when the Horns won 80-55, in 2008 KU had a chance to tie
it at the buzzer but lost by three, 72-69.
"Two of them were real bad I think they beat us 15 and 25," Self said
remembering the last three in Austin. "One of them the year we won it
(2008) we screwed up the last play that ended up being the play we ran
against Memphis to get the three and we lost by three. We didn't play
great the second half of that game, (but) played really well the first
half. They haven't beat us at our place in some good games and we
haven't beat them down there and to be honest they've controlled us
quite handily in two of those three games."
To help control Texas better Kansas will have to contain Damion James
who thus far looks like a solid Player of the Year candidate in this
league. James now leads Texas in scoring at 17.8 ppg and also tops the
conference in rebounds per game at 11.0.
"It remains to be seen," Self answered after Phog.net asked if James
was the Player of the Year in the Big 12 thus far. "I think there's way
to much time left to determine who the player of the year in the league
is. I would say statistically and what he's done so far, I would
certainly say he would be the leading candidate."
Damian is still a difficult matchup for any team but for KU, Marcus
Morris will likely begin the game with the honors.
"I hope so," said Self when asked if Marcus was up for the challenge.
"But we won't shut him out by any means but hopefully we can limit his
touches and do a decent job on the glass. He's such an athlete and can
make plays that you can't coach."
"Definitely, I like all the challenges," said Marcus with a smile. "He
and Craig Brackins are the two top guys that I enjoy guarding. I'm just
going to go out and give him my best shot; I will try and contain him."
"He's a tough matchup but of all the teams in the league we have a guy
as quick as any anybody trying to guard him," Self added. "Because
Marcus is a premier four-man just like Damian is."
KU and Texas do have one thing in common – neither has played its best
recently. The difference is that Kansas is finding ways to win.
Saturday's game against Nebraska ended up being tougher than the
pundits anticipated. Did KU get caught looking ahead or were the Hawks
weary after a couple of road trips with overtime games and a late
return from Colorado?
"I'm not really excited," Self said commenting about his team's play
against Colorado and Nebraska, "but when you really look at it, did I
expect us to play great this week? I probably didn't expect to play
great coming off last week (wins over Missouri and Kansas State), and
our guys are tired. I thought they played tired today."
"Well I have had people that didn't even know we played today; most
people are just telling us good luck on Monday," said senior Sherron Collins. "I just tell them that we have a game today. We have to focus
on this game first. Just talking to people, everyone looks past (the
Nebraska game); but of course, we look forward to the Texas game, too.
It is one of those games that we circle on the schedule."
As a result while Texas tries to figure some things out Kansas will
practice for 40 minutes Sunday and attempt to travel to Austin for this
Big Monday matchup with "fresh legs and fresh mind".
"That's what we talked about in the locker room afterward," Self said.
"I don't want to take anything away from Nebraska, but this is one of
those games, ‘Let's get through this game so we can get to that game.'
I think we'll go down there very excited to play.
Thursday Self told Phog.net that everything is preparation. Everything
you do in conference and this time of they year gets you ready for the
games that matter most. The short Saturday-Monday turnaround preps his
team for the NCAA Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday first and second
Self is also hoping the tough, raucous road environments KU has faced
over the last week or more will help his Jayhawks understand what they
will face in Austin on Monday.
"Everything is preparation. And trust me, the Colorado crowd was about
as, next to K-state, was about as good an atmosphere as we've played
in. We played in two good atmospheres the last two (road games)."
While this is a game the world of college basketball has had circled on
its calendar all year. Self is careful not too put too much emphasis on
"In the conference (race) I don't think you should get too hung up on
one game. I really don't, because if something doesn't go well it can
deflate you for the next one. If something goes good you can be too
high. I think you kind of have to be pretty steady on how you approach
"It's going to be one of those games I assume that Rick won't have to
say anything to his kids and I won't' have to say anything to mine to
get them excited to play," Self added. "I think going into the season
the hype was Texas – Kansas and the game's in Austin and we know we'll
have to play probably our best game we've played so far this year to
win but we expect to go down there and play well."
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