Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 83-66 victory over Texas A&M; on March 8, 2012.
KU guard Elijah Johnson and forward Thomas Robinson talk to reporters after the Jayhawks' 83-66 victory over Texas A&M; on March 8, 2012.
Texas A&M; coach Billy Kennedy and players Keith Davis and Khris Middleton talk to reporters following their team's 83-66 loss to Kansas on March 8, 2012.
Kansas City, Mo. Three times now, the Texas A&M; men’s basketball team has tried to limit the production of Kansas University’s all-Big 12 stars Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, and three times other Jayhawks have made them pay.
The latest rendition of that same song — Thursday’s 83-66 Kansas victory in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center — was more of a encore performance for KU guard Elijah Johnson.
Exactly two weeks ago, Johnson poured in 21 points in a 66-58 KU victory in College Station, Texas. Thursday, Johnson picked up where he left off by scoring a career-high 26 points on 5-of-7 shooting from three-point range to help the Jayhawks advance to today’s semifinals against Baylor.
For the Aggies, whose rugged and rough style served them well during the game’s first 10 minutes, Johnson’s performance reminded them a lot of the last meeting.
“It basically did,” said A&M; big man David Loubeau. “Once he got going, it was kind of hard to stop him.”
Added Aggies guard Dash Harris, who was burdened with the task of doubling Robinson in the post while, at the same time, not straying too far from the three-point line: “Elijah did a great job and I compliment him on his past two performances. They probably helped put them over the top against us two times straight now.”
Asked what it felt like to help on Robinson and watch as the Jayhawks reversed the ball to the wing that Harris had just vacated, the veteran guard described a feeling of desperation.
“You just have to hope he misses the shot,” he said.
Johnson did little of that on Thursday, finishing 8-for-11 from the floor and 5-for-5 from the free throw line. At one point during Thursday’s sloppy first half, Johnson scored eight straight points for the Jayhawks. The first six came from behind the arc and the final two at the free throw line. Johnson’s solo run erased a one-point A&M; lead and put the Jayhawks ahead by seven. His teammates soon hopped on board and, by halftime, the Jayhawks were in complete control.
Although Johnson’s career day once again buried the Aggies, no one in the losing locker room lamented the gameplan — only the fact that it did not work.
“When you have to double the post and stop one perimeter guy from dominating, it’s kind of hard to stop that second perimeter guy,” Harris said.
Johnson’s lights out performance was not the only aspect of Thursday’s game that resembled the last meeting between these two teams. After missing the first meeting between KU and A&M; in Lawrence because of injury, A&M; junior Khris Middleton scored 23 against the Jayhawks at A&M.; He scored 24 on Thursday, on 9-of-15 shooting, marking just the third time all season that he had topped the 20-point mark in a single game.
The Jayhawks (27-5) initially put Robinson on the 6-foot-7 swingman, but later gave that the job to junior Travis Releford, who forced Middleton to hit tough shot after tough shot to reach his total.
Still, as good as Middleton was, it was Johnson and KU’s 10 three-pointers that sank the Aggies (14-18).
“Their guards can shoot,” Middleton said. “And they have really good bigs. That’s basically it. You can’t really double the post like you want to because (Robinson will) just kick it out every time. We just wanted to try to make it hard on the post and contest their threes, but they made most of those, so, it’s tough.”