January Madness: Kansas Clips No. 3 Texas, 90-87

In the kind of hard fought hardwood tilt that college basketball was meant to be, and where the premiere players from both squads responded with career performances, No. 13 Kansas edged No. 3 Texas 90-87 at Lawrence in front of a sold-out Allen Field House and an ESPN ‘Big Monday' national telecast.

If it is this mad in January, what will March be like?

Sophomore sensation T.J. Ford, who absolutely thrives in this kind of high-profile environment against a premium opponent, contributed a career-best 25 points while adding 10 assists, 7 rebounds, two steals and just two turnovers.

But it was senior F Nick Collison and senior G Kirk Hinrich that refused to allow the Jayhawks to drop consecutive home losses since 1988 and avoid the upset (Kansas entered as a seven-point favorite). Hinrich led his team with 25 points, but it was Collison (dammit) who carried his team on his shoulders in supplying 24 points (9-of-20 FG, 5-of-6 FT) and a career-high 23 (that's not a misprint, folks) rebounds.

I hate that Texas let this one slip away, but Monday's was a cornered-animal of a Kansas team that dipped into the depths of its intestinal fortitude and fed off of a frenzied home crowd nearing meltdown to, frankly, nip a football school that is just knee-deep in the pool of college basketball's storied elite.

The Horns (12-3, 4-1 Big 12) are now in a three-way tie with Kansas and Oklahoma for second place in a conference play, and will face league-leading Oklahoma State (15-1, 4-0 Big 12) Saturday in Austin. ESPN+ will televise the game regionally at 3 p.m. (CST).

In a game characterized by spirited runs from both benches, Texas held a 13-point advantage midway through the first quarter. In fact, Texas led for the vast majority of the game and held a 48-43 halftime advantage after freshman F Brad Buckman's put-back slam.

Kansas did not regain the lead until Collison nailed a three-pointer to put the Jayhawks up, 79-78, with 6:10 remaining. The home team's largest lead was at 88-82 following sophomore G Aaron Miles bucket with 1:42 left in the emotional roller coaster.

As it was, the Horns had a chance to tie (just like the Arizona game) in the final 10 seconds but a pair of treys fell short of the mark.

Statistically, the game was virtually dead even. Texas shot 43 percent from the field (including a 7-of-16 showing from beyond the arc against the league's worst team in defending against the trey) while Kansas hit 47 percent from the floor. Junior F Brian Boddicker, playing the best ball of his career, was 6-of-9 from beyond the arc (all of his shots were treys) and finished with 20 points off the bench.

Both squads were 20-of-28 from the charity stripe, an area where Texas needed to have the upper hand against a relatively thin Jayhawk bench. Despite Collision's ‘chairman of the boards' performance, Texas out-rebounded Kansas, 45-43. Meanwhile, Texas committed 15 turnovers to Kansas' 12.

Texas C James Thomas, though, has been too quiet as of late. With Texas needing to get KU post players into foul trouble, it was Thomas who picked up quick personals and took only four shots from the field. The junior finished with 10 points and 14 boards.

For now, Texas has lost three games against nationally ranked teams by a total of 12 points; it has posted a pair of quality wins against Top 25 foes (Georgia, Missouri). And I like Texas' chances at home against a Cowboy club that currently holds the nation's longest winning streak at 14. With a win Saturday, Texas should still be a Top 5 team when the next polls are released and will definitely remain a Top 10 basketball team as it has been all year.

What head coach Rick Barnes has done in little more than four seasons at the Forty Acres is amazing. In the not too distant past, Texas would travel to Kansas and lose by 25 (a 15-point loss was considered a moral victory). Now, Jayhawk fans are storming the court following a win over UT (this from a school that has produced Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Drew Gooden, Paul Pierce, etc., etc., etc). Meanwhile ESPN announcers are calling the Longhorns a "national college basketball powerhouse" and a "legitimate Final Four team."

The difference, though, between Texas being a "legitimate Final Four team" and an actual Final Four team is developing a consistently stronger inside presence and coming up with just a couple of more defensive stops in the final minute against top-notch opponents.

The good news is that this team knows that, and has the talent to make it happen.

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