Texas posted a two-game sweep of the Jayhawks last year, the first time in the short history of the series that the Horns have posted back-to-back wins over Kansas. But recent history, while glorious for Longhorn hoops, is just that: in the past.
"We have a different team this year with a lot of young guys," said senior G Kenny Taylor. "But our young guys are playing really well. We just have to stay on them, tell them to stay focused, in the kind of atmosphere that we're going to have. Hopefully, we'll get them to play good and come out with a victory."
A victory in Lawrence would be a first for the Longhorns. The emphasis this week in Austin has not so much been the winning streak but the fact that Texas has never won in Lawrence. The Jayhawks hold a 10-4 lead in the all-time series (6-3 since the formation of the Big 12), while owning a 6-0 advantage over Texas in games played at historic Allen Field House.
"We've talked about knowing that we've never won at Kansas," junior G Kenton Paulino said. "Kansas is a tough place and it will be a big challenge for us. We're pretty much focused on that."
Texas is 15-4 on the season, 4-2 in Big 12 play. Three of Texas' losses have been by a total of seven points. Kansas is 15-1 on the season, a spotless 5-0 in conference action. But the Jayhawks were shellacked, 83-62, at Villanova on January 22 -- a game in which the Jayhawks actually trailed by 32 points with little more than seven minutes remaining.
If Texas were to find a blueprint in the stunning upset of then undefeated, No. 2 Kansas, it would note that the key to plucking the Birds on their home court is:
a) force turnovers. Kansas was guilty of 22 turnovers at 'Nova, with 15 of those give-aways were listed as steals;
b) maintain its hot streak from beyond the arc. Villanova didn't launch many treys (ten) but connected on seven of them. Meanwhile, the Longhorns nailed 14-of-21 three-pointers in Tuesday's 80-73 win over Texas Tech;
c) hold its own on the offensive glass (or, at least play evenly on second-chance points). Since they began relying heavily on a 2-3 zone, the Horns have been pummeled on the offensive boards in consecutive games against Oklahoma and Texas Tech, but compensated (to some extent) with tenacious defense and three-point shooting.
Paulino, along with freshman G Daniel Gibson, lit up Texas Tech with a three-point flurry during a two-minute span midway through the second period. As critical as the outside shot may be at Kansas, Paulino believes Texas' piecemealed front court might be the key to the outcome.
"The important thing is to make sure we stay confident and take the open shot, but also to get our big men (junior F Brad Buckman, senior C Jason Klotz) established," Paulino said. "I think we can hurt them inside. As long as we get our big men established, that will keep the field goals open to us."
Easier said than done, considering F Wayne Simien remains a first-team All-American candidate despite missing four games due to injury. The 6-9 senior leads the Jayhawks in scoring (17 ppg) and rebounding (11 ppg).
"They'll definitely present a challenge for us inside with Simien," senior G Sydmill Harris said. "He's a really good post player. He's one of the top post players in the Big 12. And they have great versatile guards."
ESPN College GameDay will originate in Lawrence, starting at 10 a.m. (CST). It means the national cable network will reference the Texas-Kansas matchup all day until the scheduled 8 p.m. tip-off. By that time, Allen Field House will be at a frothing capacity of 16,300.
"You go into Lawrence and they get loud," Klotz said. "It's really loud and you can't hear anything. I think it rattles some people. They may hit two buckets and be up by only three points but it's so loud, you feel like 'Oh, no. They're making this run', when they're really not. It messes with people's minds."
Just like Texas messed with Kansas' minds all last season.