Austin, Texas — Kansas basketball coach Bill Self’s pregame prediction that his team’s Big Monday battle with Texas would resemble “a rock fight” turned out to be undeniably true.
All that was missing were the rocks.
The absence of flying objects, however, did nothing to keep either side from scrapping and aching for a physical 40 minutes in a 79-76 win by No. 20 Texas over 8th-ranked KU.
It marks the first time in Self’s 19 seasons at Kansas that a Big 12 opponent beat the Jayhawks three times in a row. The Longhorns swept the regular season series with KU during the 2020-21 season. The rematch is set for March 5 at Allen Fieldhouse in the regular season finale.
“Any time you play a Coach Self Kansas team, it’s going to be physical,” UT coach Chris Beard told ESPN’s Kris Budden at halftime.
The physical style of play by both teams led to contact all over the floor throughout the night. Hustle plays sent players diving to the deck in search of that one play that might make the difference. And it looked like that play came on a few different occasions for both sides.
Joe Yesufu’s steal and two-handed hammer dunk put Kansas up by two with 11:18 to play and forced Texas to call timeout.
A lob pass from Dajuan Harris Jr. that was intended for David McCormack (16 points) was intercepted by UT’s Christian Bishop, but his hand flipped the ball into the Kansas basket to put KU up 67-62.
And a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Christian Braun (13 points) that put the Jayhawks up 70-67 looked as if it might be the one that broke the Longhorns’ spirits.
Instead, UT kept coming, tying the game after every Kansas lead.
Finally, the Longhorns broke through, cutting a four-point KU lead to one in the final minute on a banked-in 3-pointer by Tre Mitchell and then taking a 77-76 lead off of a jumper by Timmy Allen.
“I thought Allen was great," Self said. "He was the one that we defended the worst.”
Kansas had one shot to win, but Harris lost the ball on a drive to the rim and the Longhorns held on with some clutch free throw shooting. KU’s attempt to tie the game in the final seconds was thwarted when UT fouled Jalen Wilson (18 points) intentionally before he could launch a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
"We shouldn’t have been in that position," Self said after the loss.
The stat sheet showed a much easier time for Kansas (19-4 overall, 8-2 Big 12). At one point, midway through the second half, the Jayhawks were shooting 60% compared to 38% by Texas. Yet KU led by just two. By game's end, the totals read 58.3% shooting for KU and 41.8% for Texas. The 15 KU turnovers and 24 Texas points off of them proved to be the great equalizer that kept this one close.
Braun and McCormack’s three consecutive missed free throws inside the final three minutes allowed UT to hang around and a tough bucket by Timmy Allen (24 points, 9 rebounds) off of a late-shot-clock miss by Bishop tied the game at 72.
“If we’d make our free throws, it’s also a different story," Self said after the loss. "That was a big difference.”
KU made just 15 of 23 from the free throw line, while Texas hit 20 of its 23 free throw attempts.
On the very next possession following Allen's make, McCormack delivered a doozy of a jump hook deep in the paint to put Kansas back up by two.
The difference with McCormack on the floor and on the bench was startling and Texas (18-6, 7-4) made KU pay early.
As they have done often this season, the Jayhawks opened Monday’s game looking to run whenever possible.
Self said before the game that the Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor defenses all kind of “mirror each other,” and KU used a similar strategy in wins over both of those teams earlier this season.
It worked for the first six or so minutes of Monday’s game, but once Texas found its footing offensively, everything seemed to get harder for the Jayhawks.
The offense labored. The defense struggled to stop both run-outs and UT post-ups. And foul trouble mounted. Five Jayhawks finished the first half with two fouls.
After Kansas missed an opportunity to go up by 10 on a missed 3-pointer by Harris, the Longhorns responded with an 8-0 run that brought the building alive. Not only did the run give Texas its first lead since 6-4, but it also featured McCormack picking up his second foul of the night on a charging call with 9:33 to play in the half.
With McCormack on the bench with two fouls, Texas repeatedly fed the ball to the post to attack his replacement, Mitch Lightfoot. When Self had seen enough of that, he went to freshman KJ Adams at the 5. The Longhorns went right at him, as well. Tre Mitchell scored 10 consecutive UT points — eight of them at the free throw line — to give Texas a 31-24 lead.
Partly through creative substitutions and tough-minded baskets, the Jayhawks ripped off an 11-4 run over a 5-minute span to tie the game at 35. But UT owned the final minute of the half, first scoring on a driving layup by Andrew Jones and then on a Marcus Carr buzzer-beating 3-pointer after a turnover in the paint by KU freshman Bobby Pettiford.
“We always talk about ending the half well,” UT coach Chris Beard said at the break. “That’s obviously a lot of fortune, but we’ll take it.”
Carr’s triple was UT’s first of the night (Texas wound up 3-for-20 from behind the arc) and the five-point stretch proved mighty big by the end of the game.
“Didn’t close out the half there," Agbaji said. "(And) obviously gave them momentum heading into the second half.”
Added Self: “That had as much to do with us losing the game as anything."
KU’s lead in the Big 12 race is now down to a single game in the loss column over Baylor and Texas Tech. The Jayhawks will play host to Oklahoma at noon on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse.