Texas, Seniors Rock Jayhawks; Chalk Up 82-67 Win

For all the good they've done for Texas basketball, there remained some unfinished business for Longhorn seniors. Just before Monday's tip-off against No. 18/20 Kansas, head coach Rick Barnes reminded them that their otherwise dazzling resume still did not include a win over the storied Jayhawk program.

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His No. 10 Longhorns hardly needed the crash course in recent history. Behind senior G Brandon Mouton's game-high 23 points (7-of-13 FG, 6-of-6 FT) and a key second half stretch where senior C James Thomas played like, well, James Thomas, Texas notched just its third win in 13 outings against Kansas with a convincing 82-67 thumping at the Erwin Center. The win raised UT's mark to 20-4 (11-2 in Big 12), giving the program a school record fifth-consecutive 20-win campaign.

For the Jayhawks, it was also a night of firsts. Kansas has now dropped four straight conference road games for the first time since 1986-87. The past three losses have been by double-digits, unprecedented for the program since league play began.

"It was not a goal of ours to beat Kansas," Mouton said. "Our goal is to win championships. But to get this win tonight is special, beating them during my senior year and winning it at home."

Barnes' game plan was to relentlessly attack the visitors with the league's deepest bench (Longhorn subs outscored KU's second-teamers, 28-2) by running the ball, and then running it some more. Barnes also instructed his team to go postal by pounding the ball inside against one of the Big 12's bottom dwellers from three-point range (No. 11, .315). For its part, Texas produced from the free throw line (83.3 percent, 20-of-24) after drawing the fouls (including a technical against senior F Jeff Graves). The Horns shot 43.1 percent (28-of-65) from the field.

The fact that Mouton is the hottest guard in D-I hoops these days was another dagger to the Jayhawks, whose season (17-7, 9-4 in Big 12) teeters on the brink of major disappointment by its lofty standards.

Named Big 12 Player of the Week just hours before tip-off, Mouton continued his torrid pace in which he has averaged 24.5 ppg during the past four contests. Monday's game marked the first time in his collegiate career that he has recorded four-consecutive 20-point performances.

"I think Brandon is one of the most under-rated players in the country," said senior G Royal Ivey (nine points, three assists, one block, one steal). "He's playing at the top of his game right now. We're just feeding off him."

As instrumental as Mouton has been as of late, this game arguably turned when Thomas was determined to play like his old self during a critical stage in the second half. Battling injuries as well as underclassmen for playing time, the senior has hardly resembled the Mister Double-Double that he was last season. As his playing time has dwindled (24.4 minutes per game in 2003 to little more than 16 minutes this year), so have his numbers (6.2 ppg; 6.6 rpg).

But with Texas nursing a 52-48 lead with 14:21 remaining, the sleeping giant awakened. Thomas scored eight points in a span of 1:23 as part of a 14-2 Texas run.

"In the second half, I knew I had to come out and play James Thomas basketball," Thomas said.

Welcome back, James Thomas. The 6-8 senior raced up and down court with the shifty speed of a point guard just to get in position to post up and be a disruptive force inside (three blocks, six rebounds in 18 minutes).

"That was key," Ivey said. "James put it to 'em. They had no answer for him. After that, we just rolled."

While Texas surpassed its league-leading (81 ppg) scoring offense, it was the Longhorn defense (particularly Thomas') that impressed Barnes. The Jayhawks went 5:50 without a field goal as Texas built a 70-52 lead with 7:54 left on the game clock.

"Defensively, that's as hard as I've ever seen (Thomas) work," Barnes said. "Defensively, James was just outstanding."

Kansas shot 38.5 percent (25-of-65) for the game and was subpar from the charity stripe (11-of-17 for 64.7 percent). An Ivey FT gave Texas its largest lead, 80-61, with 2:01 remaining. Guard Keith Langford then hit a pair of treys to make the score somewhat respectable. He led his team with 17 points but Texas otherwise dictated the tempo from the opening tip.

"I don't know if they're any more physical than any other team in the Big 12," sad F Wayne Simien who, at 6-9, is the closest thing the state of Kansas has to a tree. "Their depth inside and the way they kept rotating in their big guys can definitely wear you down."

Texas' big guys included 6-9 C Jason Klotz and little big man (6-5) freshman F P.J. Tucker. Klotz (five points, five boards, one block) teamed with Thomas to limit Simien to 5-of-16 from the field while Tucker contributed 11 points and a game-high eight rebounds.

With a win over Kansas now in their history books, Longhorn seniors will play their final home game at 1 p.m. (CST) Saturday against Texas Tech in a CBS national telecast. Texas then faces league-leading Oklahoma State in another ESPN 'Big Monday' tilt that should decide the Big 12 regular season championship.


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