|The Jayhawk "student-athletes" wanted a rematch with Texas. They got it.
After beating Nebraska twice by an average of 31.5 points per game, the 18th ranked Kansas beat the Huskers for the third time this season 79-65 in the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas Saturday. Mario Chalmers led four Kansas players in double figures with 18 points. Russell Robinson and Darnell Jackson each added 13 and Jeff Hawkins scored 11 for KU. Jason Dourisseau led the Huskers with 16, Wes Wilkinson had 15 and Aleks Maric had 12 before fouling out.
The win sets up a chance for finish the avenged-loss trifecta. Missouri and Kansas State each beat KU with the Jayhawks winning the rematch. As most of you know, Texas took the Jayhawks to the woodshed, winning by 25 two weeks ago. Game time is scheduled for 2 PM Sunday on ESPN.
"Weíre going to have to play at a higher level to have a chance," said KU coach Bill Self. "I donít know that playing on a neutral court tomorrow is going to be a factor."
Kansas used their nation-leading defense to take control of the game early. While Nebraska made several runs to cut into big KU leads, they never really got untracked while playing their third game in as many days. Coming in KU led the nation in defensive field-goal percentage, allowing opponents to hit only 34 percent of their shots. Nebraska was held to 38 percent from the field, including 6-22 from TreyLand (27 percent).
The turning point may have come early in the second half when Wilkinson picked up his fourth foul with 18:37 still to play and the Jayhawk lead at 11, 41-30. KU immediately went on a 12-2 run over the next four minutes to expand their lead to 21, their largest of the day.
Wilkinson returned and the Huskers answered with a 9-0 run of their own, cutting the lead to 53-41 at the under 12 timeout. But Robinson scored on runners in the lane on two of the next three possessions, and Jackson scored twice to restore order. While Nebraska would crawl back to within 14 points on several occasions, they looked as if they didnít have the legs to make a game of it down the stretch.
"I don't think we played with the same energy we did last night, but we made shots," said Self. "We did what we needed to do.Ē
Credit Nebraska and their coach, Barry Collier. They had their clocks cleaned twice but this was the best effort of the year against KU. While KU is the more talented team, the Huskers could have mailed this one in.
Nebraska opened the game by hitting their first two shots, including a three from Wilkinson to take an early 5-0 lead. KU answered with a 9-0 run to take a lead they build to as many as 14 and never relinquish.
The Jayhawks, coming off a 1-9 performance from beyond the arc in the quarter-final win over Oklahoma State, went 6-13 in the first half alone on Saturday. Chalmers and Hawkins combined to go five for nine in the opening stanza. Over a three minute stretch, KU got treys on four of five trips down the floor. Two trips later Chalmers was fouled on a trey, and converted all three charities to build a 29-17 lead. Sasha Kaun made a couple from the line to give KU its biggest lead on the next possession.
The Huskers were determined to fight, and went on a 9-2 run of their own to cut the lead to seven with less than three minutes left in the half. After the final media timeout the Jayhawks got the last five points, including a three by J-Hawk with two seconds left to make the halftime score 38-26.
After opening hot from three-point land in the first half, KU hit but one of six in the second half. Taking advantage of Wilkinson and Maricís foul troubles, KU pounded the ball inside in the second half. Wilkinson never did foul out, but his effectiveness was limited. He finished 4-10 from the field, 3-8 from beyond the arc, and had no offensive rebounds.
It seems like a long time ago when KUís record was 3-4. By hitting threes in the first half and getting points in the paint in the second, and by playing tenacious defense the Jayhawks are certainly playing the part of a 24-7 ball club.
But the big story is the rematch. Now that opportunity has knocked on the Jayhawk locker room door, itíll be interesting to see how the now not-so-young KU team handles their biggest stage to date.
Mark Howe is a freelance writer currently residing in Milford, IN. He is a former ticket taker, usher and security worker at Allen Fieldhouse, and can be reached at mhowe (at) rockchalk (dot) com.
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