No. 14 Texas 75, No. 17 Kansas 72 (OT): In historic first, Horns sweep regular-season series over Jayhawks
Texas’ defense wins it as Coleman said, ‘It means a lot being able to be a part of history’
Shaka Smart still remembers going to Allen Fieldhouse his first season at Texas and taking a five-point lead into halftime against mighty Kansas, the Big 12’s basketball heavyweight.
“We’re walking from the court to the locker room and Jai Lucas grabs me and says, ‘Coach, you’ve got to convince these guys we can win,’” Smart recalled late Tuesday.
Smart, now in his sixth season, thought the Texas ex-turned-assistant was crazy. But sure enough, “I went in the locker room and saw the look on their face,” he recalled.
Wanting to beat No. 17 Kansas is one thing. Actually doing it is something totally different.
The Longhorns had already clipped the Jayhawks once this season on Jan. 2 — in Lawrence and in rather historic fashion, no less. But for No. 14 Texas to clamp down defensively and do it again Tuesday night at the Erwin Center was something truly rare.
Smart’s team played suffocating second-half defense and pulled out a 75-72 overtime win. It’s the first time Texas has swept the regular-season series since the two schools joined the Big 12.
“It means a lot being able to be a part of history,” senior guard Matt Coleman III said. “Now we just want to continue to make more history as we move forward into the rest of the season.”
For the seniors, it’s a huge accomplishment. The Jayhawks still hold the all-time series edge 35-10. But now the Horns have won three of the last six.
“First of all, this is the first time that a Texas team has swept Kansas,” a proud Jericho Sims said. “It’s good to have that in the back of our mind going into these last games here. We’re going to be on the road and I think we showed a lot of fight.”
When Tom Penders finished his run at UT, the two teams were playing only once in the regular season. The Big 12 had not gone to a round-robin format yet. Not even the best Rick Barnes teams could win two regular-season games against Kansas.
So for Smart, who has dodged plenty of slings and arrows during his time in Austin, it's practically a personal affirmation that this team may still be capable of something special.
Texas (14-6, 8-5 Big 12) now finishes the regular season with four straight road games, starting Saturday at Texas Tech. The final three (Iowa State, Oklahoma, TCU) are make-up games due to COVID-19 postponements. Kansas (17-8, 11-6) has only one game remaining at home against Baylor.
As Smart always tells his players, defense travels. With defense like the Horns had against the Jayhawks, anything is possible. Kansas scored only 29 points in the final 25 minutes, shot 29.6% in the second half and made only eight of 24 3-pointers all night long.
“Every coach kind of has his own bias, but to me, the defensive end has to be our foundation,” Smart said. “Holding them to 23 points in the second half, six points in overtime, flat-out won us the game. That’s who we have to be.”
Five Longhorns finished in double figures, but collectively they were 5-for-26 from 3-point range. Texas even turned it over 17 times compared to Kansas’ 12. But that didn’t matter when the Horns were plus-12 in rebounding margin and plus-10 in fast-break points.
This game was won on the other end, with Sims leading the way against Kansas’ David McCormack. Granted, he’s not as athletically gifted as some of Kansas’ recent big men. But McCormack was playing really well as of late and came in averaging 13 points per game.
Sims kept McCormack frustrated all night, same as the Texas forward did against TCU’s Kevin Samuel and West Virginia’s Derek Culver. Sims didn’t get the credit he deserved for those two defensive performances, and Smart pitched him for the league’s all-defensive team.
McCormack finished with 12 points, only four rebounds and fouled out with 1:27 left in overtime. The last three games, Sims is 14-for-19 shooting with 21 rebounds.
“Despite the foul trouble, just forcing them out there, it makes them harder to score,” Sims said.
Smart said Brock Cunningham’s defensive play against Kansas was “unbelievable.” The Westlake product isn’t known for his scoring (no points, four rebounds) but his energy is undeniable. If he’s not making the extra pass, he’s diving on the floor for loose balls.
Cunningham was up to all his heel tactics, slamming into McCormack, rotating off screens and making life miserable for the boys in blue. “I couldn’t take him out of the game. I could not take him out of the game,” Smart repeated for emphasis. “He was just too valuable the way he was flying around on defense, communicating.”
Same goes for Kai Jones, who ended up with 10 points and eight rebounds. Their advanced defensive play was the main reason why freshman Greg Brown sat most of the second half and overtime. Brown still played a vital role, though, hitting two 3-pointers just after halftime as the Horns dug out of a 14-point hole.
Once again, Texas had chances to put it away in regulation. Andrew Jones had a good look at an open 3-pointer at the top of the key but missed. Coleman got a 3-pointer on the next trip down, but that didn’t go, either.
The Horns went 1-for-9 shooting to close out regulation. Frankly, there was a lot of that dribbling, dribbling, dribbling that ultimately goes nowhere and drives Texas fans crazy. But the Jayhawks were 1-for-7 over the final 6:02 before the extra period, too.
Kansas fans will lament how Jalen Wilson lost control of the ball driving to the hoop in the final 10 seconds. The ball slipped out of his hands and went out of bounds for a rather stunning turnover.
UT got the ball inbounds to Kai Jones, who was fouled. He made the second of two free throws to give the home team the decisive three-point edge.
It was a rather subdued celebration, mostly because there were no trophies handed out or championships crowned. It was UT’s senior night, so parents and friends came hustling down to pose for pictures afterward.
Call it one night, and two specific wins, they’ll never forget.
“It means a lot,” Coleman said.