#7 Texas edges #3 Kansas 76-56 for the Big 12 title
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The players gathered on the Texas bench, in front of interim coach Rodney Terry and in the middle section of the T-Mobile Center, where they wanted to win the Big 12 crown. Champions Cup.
After the season they’ve had, who can blame them?
It all started under the darkest of clouds with the sacking of their head coach Chris Bird after an incident at home. Terry was tasked with the difficult task of leading the Longhorns through a tough schedule in what many called one of the toughest conferences in college basketball history.
But after finishing as runner-up to Kansas in the regular season, the seventh-seeded Longhorns proved they were champions Saturday night, knocking off the third-seeded Jayhawks 76-56 in the Big 12 final.
Dylan Disu scored 18 points and became the best player of the tournament. Marcus Carr and Sir Jabari Rice, who also landed on the all-tournament team, each had 17. Almost everyone in burnt orange helped stop the Jayhawks, who were chasing their second straight tournament title.
“There probably hasn’t been a tough team in terms of challenges or direction,” Terry said, his voice hoarse for a long time. “There were no nights off. This tournament, we knew it was going to be tough, but we were really excited about it, the attitude and the attitude of these guys – they wanted to be champions and they were.
After more than two decades without a Big 12 Tournament title, the Longhorns (26-8) have won two of their last three games and could earn a No. 2 seed in next week’s NCAA Tournament with their performance. in Kansas City.
“You only get that win one night,” said Brock Cunningham, who later was part of the 2021 title team that was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. “We’re going to win tonight and then get back to work.”
The Jayhawks were again without Hall of Fame coach Bill Self, who went to the emergency room on the eve of the quarterfinals for an undisclosed medical procedure. Norm Roberts, Self’s longtime assistant and interim coach, said he hopes to bounce back when he begins his NCAA title defense next week.
Jalen Wilson scored 24 points and Joseph Yesufu, who was in the starting lineup with injuries, finished with 11 points for the Jayhawks (27-7), who have won 13 of their previous 16 trips to the Big 12 final.
The question now is whether the defending national champions have done enough to secure the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before Saturday, and with it, a favorable path through Kansas City in the regional round.
“Give Texas a lot of credit. “They played really well,” Roberts said. “They are very athletic; we knew it. Fast. They have very good players in attack. At the beginning of the game I thought we did a good job, but then we missed a lot of bunnies, easy shots and backhands that could have kept us in the game, and then I think the fatigue took over.
Both teams were without starters Saturday night due to injuries — Kevin McCullar Jr. for the Jayhawks, Timmy Allen for the Longhorns — but there was still plenty of star power at the T-Mobile Center.
Wilson, the league’s player of the year, kept the Jayhawks in check during a scattered first half. He hit the glass and even scored 17 points on a steal, more than half of his total.
And Texas relied on depth and balance to build a 39-33 halftime lead. He had to do so after opening the previous two rounds with Disu breaking a pair less than eight minutes into the game.
“Everybody on the court did their part,” Carr said later, “cutting shots, moving them, knocking them down.”
When Disu returned, the older man immediately set to work. He had a couple of baskets in the first few minutes, and a five-minute drought at Kansas allowed the Longhorns to go up 53-41 with 12 minutes left.
Back then, the 500 or so Texas fans felt like 15,000. And about 15,000 Kansas fans remained silent.
The knockout blow came a few minutes later, when Disu’s baskets capped one by Rice, and Arterio Morris added an Allied dunk. That put the Longhorns up 70-50 with 4½ minutes left, and while Roberts eventually called a timeout to slow the offense, it was too late to make a difference.
“I don’t think we really thought the game was over at any point,” Rice said. “We just kept playing, whatever the result was when the buzzer sounded, that’s all we could think about.”
McCullar, the Jayhawks’ defensive dynamo, battled back spasms that resurfaced in the semifinal win at Iowa State; he watched from his sweaty chair. The Longhorns were without Allen for the entire tournament as the veteran leader rested from a foot injury before the NCAA tournament.
Texas shot 50% from the field but was very good inside the arc – the Longhorns were just 4 of 17 from 3. They rarely went more than a few minutes without a basket, which prevented Kansas from getting its crowd into the game.
Kansas was forced to use a different lineup with McCalder playing MJ Rice in extra minutes. The Jayhawks rarely looked out of sync, and that was evident when junior Dajuan Harris turned the ball over four times in an unusual fashion.
The Longhorns and Jayhawks are headed to the NCAA Tournament. They will find out who, when and where they will play in the first round on Sunday night.
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