Texas goes for third win this season over Kansas in Big 12 semis
Kansas waited until late into Thursday night to learn its opponent in the Big 12 Conference tournament semifinals. Like, precisely until the final seconds of a showdown between Texas Tech and Texas in Kansas City.
When the dust settled, the Longhorns emerged with a 67-66 triumph to set up a third meeting this season with the short-handed Jayhawks on Friday night.
Texas (18-7) punched that ticket and got to the tournament semifinals for the first time since 2014 when Matt Coleman swished two free throws with 1.8 seconds to go, capping the 13th-ranked Longhorns' second comeback from a 10-point deficit.
"Any time you play Tech, you know it's going to be a grind game, both ways," Coleman said after he led Texas with 19 points. "The most aggressive team usually wins."
Added Jase Febres, who delivered five of the Longhorns' 11 3-pointers and scored 15 points, "We could have cracked. We could have folded plenty of times out there, got discouraged, but our coach continues to instill confidence in us and we just feed off that."
The Jayhawks got their confidence from perhaps the best offensive game of Ochai Agbaji's career. He stepped up in a big way during a second half when his team needed every bit of it.
After grappling with foul trouble and playing only 12 minutes while Kansas (20-8) raced to a 35-15 lead and led by as many as 23 points, Agbaji pumped in 20 in the final 20 minutes to notch a career-best 26 points.
In one span when the Sooners made a charge and closed the gap to 53-50, Agbaji generated 14 consecutive points. Every time Oklahoma made a lunge, Agbaji - playing in his hometown - had an answer, including three consecutive 3-pointers to keep the Jayhawks in front.
"What Ochai did (Thursday) was as good of a stretch as I've seen a player have in a long time for us," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Marcus Garrett also had a big night for the Jayhawks, who were without starting big man David McCormack and reserve Tristan Enaruna after they were reportedly exposed to COVID-19 earlier in the week and entered the school's protocol. Garrett finished with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Mitch Lightfoot accounted for 11 points and four rebounds.
Now Kansas and Texas collide for the third time, and armed with serious incentive.
The Longhorns swept the Jayhawks during the regular season - in Lawrence when they handed Kansas its worst-ever home loss (84-59) then in overtime in Austin (75-72) - becoming only the second team in the 25-year history of the Big 12 do so.
Meanwhile, Texas is eyeing a spot in the tournament championship game for the first time since 2011.
This matchup figures to be different than the first two with Texas' long, tall front line not having to contend with the 6-foot-10 McCormack. But Kansas has deployed a smaller lineup sporadically this season with notable success.
Self said he reminded his team that it had won some games "basically playing small without (McCormack)."
"We played well the first half against Texas (in the overtime loss on Feb. 23) playing without David and Mitch," Self said. "We've shown we can do it some.
"It's good for us and I think good for the (NCAA Tournament) committee to probably see we can play really well and not have David and Tristan even though they'll both be back next week."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 12, 2021