A.J. Abrams had just one trip to the charity stripe and just one blocked shot, but both came in the final 58 seconds and may have been the difference between winning and losing. First, Abrams blocked a Brandon Rush three-point attempt with Texas nursing a 67-64 lead.
"I got three good fingers on it," Abrams laughed.
Then, 37 seconds later, Abrams calmly sank a pair of foul shots to all but put this one on ice. Five of the past eight Texas-Kansas games came down to the last possession, and this one was no exception. Mario Chalmers' attempt at a buzzer-beating trey from the left wing fell short, sending the sold out Erwin Center into celebration. (Among the 16,755 in attendance were football coaches Darrell Royal and Mack Brown and former Longhorns Aaron Ross, Kasey Studdard and one Vincent Young.)
This one was huge for the Horns. No. 12 Texas has now defeated three teams currently ranked in the top six (Kansas, UCLA, Tennessee) of both major polls. It was also the Horns' third straight win over the Jayhawks in Austin. Texas raised its record to 20-4, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference play. Kansas dropped to 23-2, 8-2 in conference action.
Both teams placed four players in double-figures. Kansas F Darrell Arthur led all scorers with 22 points, while Connor Atchley paced his team with 16 points on a perfect night from the floor: 6-of-6 FGs, including four treys. He also knocked down all four FT attempts and blocked four shots. Foul trouble limited Damion James to just three minutes in the first period but he didn't miss a second of the final frame, finishing with 14 points (4-of-8 FG) and a game-high 14 rebounds. Abrams also finished with 14 points (5-of-13 FG) and was 2-of-8 from outside the arc.
D.J. Augustin's four-game shooting slump has become a five-game slump. The sophomore finished with 10 points but was 1-of-13 from the field. He would compensate with an 8-of-10 showing at the charity stripe, five assists and two steals.
"I don't worry about missing shots," Augustin said. "I just keep playing and try to keep my teammates involved."
Longhorn coach Rick Barnes spoke of his team's "finding a way to win," evidenced by the fact Texas went without a FG during the final 3:20. Texas, however, connected on 6-of-8 FTs during that stretch.
The Horns shot 40.7 percent (22-of-54) from the field, including 8-of-20 (40 percent) from three-point range. Kansas went 27-of-62 from the field (43.5 percent), but hit just 4-of-17 three-pointers (23.5 percent). Texas rebounded, literally, from a double-digit halftime disadvantage on the boards, 36-35. The Horns, meanwhile, enjoyed a decisive edge at the free throw line, hitting 20-of-28 freebies (71.4 percent) compared to KU's 11-of-14 (78.6 percent) showing.
Both teams opened red-hot from the field in a tilt that would be as physical as it was up-tempo. Atchley drained three treys to spot Texas an early 20-16 lead. Arthur's jumper tied the score at 26 with nine minutes left until the break. The Jayhawks took their first lead courtesy of Brandon Rush's tip-in following a Texas turnover. Atchley answered Darnell Jackson's three-ball with his fourth trey to pull Texas within a point at 37-36. But the visitors took a 42-38 lead into the lockerroom after dominating the glass, 23-13.
Justin Mason got on the board when he followed his traditional three-point play with a putback to open the second period. James' trey knotted this one at 46 before Atchley's slam gave Texas a brief two-point advantage. Now, these two teams were banging inside as James became a defensive juggernaut and chairman of the boards. His second trey doused a short-lived KU uprising to reclaim the Longhorn lead, 54-53, in what had become a see-saw affair with neither team getting separation.
The bodies began to fly and fouls began to mount as Atchley, and then James, were whistled for their third personals. Gary Johnson hit one of two foul shots to affect another tie at 57 all with nine minutes remaining despite the fact Texas had just missed nine of its last 10 shots. Augustin's only FG of the showdown, a driving lay-up with 5:34 remaining, spotted the Burnt Orange a 62-57 advantage.
"I told (Augustin) many, many times. I don't care what he's done to that point: he's our guy," Barnes said. "We trust him totally. His penetration causes all kinds of problems for the other guys. It allows guys like Damion James and Connor Atchley to come in and clean it up."
Augustin's steal led to Mason's soaring putback that capped a 7-0 Texas run. James' demonstrative slam gave Texas a three-point lead with three minutes left as the sold-out Erwin Center neared meltdown.
"I think they just out-manned us in the second half," KU coach Bill Self said. "It surprises me because it's all we talked about at halftime. Our guys did not respond to their aggressiveness."
James sank a pair of foul shots with 40 ticks left for a 69-64 Texas lead. Those particular shots, Barnes said, cannot be underestimated.
"I'm really proud of Damion James more than anybody," Barnes said. "His free throws were really big. They were just huge."
But Chalmers drained a straight-away trey just eight seconds later and the Jayhawks called their final timeout, trailing 69-67. Augustin briefly lost control of the inbounds pass but Abrams was fouled in the frenetic scramble to push the ball upcourt. That's when he sank both foul shots to seal the deal. Well, almost...
Augustin missed the back-end of a one-and-one, and the Jayhawks had a chance with nine seconds left. But Chalmers couldn't draw net on his three-point attempt as time expired.
"It puts us in control of what we want to do this season," Abrams said. "This was a big win for us, but it's another conference game. We've got to put this one behind us."
The Horns travel to surprising Baylor (17-5, 5-3) Saturday.