Hoops: Horns Hope To Upend Hurtin' Jayhawks

When the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996, planners envisioned marquee football match-ups between Texas and Nebraska while hoping that former Southwest Conference teams could somehow avoid embarrassment once basketball season began.

What has emerged, during the five-year Rick Barnes era at least, is Texas versus Kansas in nationally televised tilts pitting the conference's two most successful teams. Most folks don't realize it but Barnes' Big 12 record at Texas (52-16) is second only to Kansas coach Roy Williams' (53-15) heading into ESPN's 'Big Monday' telecast, 8 p.m. (CST).

With its 76-55 pounding of No. 20/21 Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma State (which took care of Tech in Lubbock on Sunday) are the only undefeated teams in Big 12 play.

Kansas holds a 9-2 advantage in the relatively brief series, with Texas hanging tough as of late. The Horns knocked off the perennial power for the first (and only) time in conference action three years ago in a 68-54 home decision. Last season, Texas took Kansas to overtime in Austin before falling 110-103.

Allen Field House, however, is an epicenter of college basketball and, on the average, was at 99.9 percent of its 16,300 capacity during KU's Final Four run last season.

"I remember playing there as a freshman," junior G Brandon Mouton said. "Kansas is really good, but they really feed off their fans. I remember it was such a highly emotional game. If we don't flinch, and if we play hard, it should come out fine."

This time, however, Texas faces a wounded Jayhawk team that has dropped consecutive games for the first time since, well, November when KU fell to Florida and North Carolina. On Saturday, top-ranked Arizona overcame a 20-point deficit and ended Kansas' 25-game home winning streak with its 91-74 shellacking. While that margin was generally unexpected, the Jayhawks' 23-game conference winning streak came to an improbable end Wednesday at Big 12 bottom-feeder Colorado, 60-59.

After running the table in the Big 12 last season (the first team in league history to go undefeated in conference play), Kansas is the consensus pick to claim yet another Big 12 crown. Yet, the 13-5 Jayhawks have now already lost one more game than last year's 34-4 Final Four team.

What in the name of Wilt Chamberlain is going on?

Although few conference roundballers are more heralded than senior C Nick Collison and senior G Kirk Hinrich, depth has big a bigger problem this season for the Jayhawks than pundits anticipated. No KU pine-rider averaged more than one minute of playing time last season.

For the first time, Texas has a deeper bench than the Jayhawks. And of course, it has the Big 12's best point guard (and likely the best hoops athlete in UT history by the time he's done) in sophomore T. J. Ford.

"We just need to go out, play hard, and keep the crowd out of it," said Ford, who prefers to let his game do most of the talking.

If you go by the adage that a hoops team is only as good as its best point guard, then Texas has its best shot in the post-War era to knock off the Jayhawks on their own court and add to their misery.

Still, look for Barnes to run his post players as he did against Missouri. Even though Kansas is dead-last in the Big 12 in defending shots from beyond the arch, expect Barnes to emphasize dribble penetration and to try to get KU's big men into foul trouble.

In short, the Texas bench can knock off the Jayhawk bench any time and at any place.

The Jayhawks will flutter from their once lofty No. 6 perch in both polls, but Barnes expects them to play like Kansas of old. The chance to redeem itself from back-to-back losses on national television against No. 4 Texas could make the home team especially formidable.

"Roy wouldn‘t say this is a ‘must win‘ game because I don't know if there are any 'must win' games in January," Barnes said. "At the same time, I want our team to go in there with the attitude that it's our last game of the season."

Added Barnes: "It's an important game in that winning it gives you a chance at the conference championship. But I truly believe that the winner of this league will still win it with three (conference) losses."

The bottom line: Texas versus Kansas is not a "must win" game for either team, but it is "must see" TV for all college hoops fans.

Horns Digest Top Stories