Courtesy: Kansas Athletics
AUSTIN, Texas — Led by a 15-point performance by Cliff Alexander and a non-stop will to win from the Jayhawks around him, No. 11/14 Kansas tightened its early hold atop the Big 12 Conference standings with a 75-62 victory at No. 17/18 Texas Saturday afternoon inside the Erwin Center.
Ten-straight Big 12 Conference regular-season titles made Kansas (16-3, 5-1) the logical choice to top the preseason poll, yet Texas (14-5, 3-3) claimed three first-place votes and has been the glamour pick to end KU’s decade of dominance. In the top-20 CBS matchup, the two met for each team’s 300th Big 12 regular-season game, ending in the 250th conference win for the Jayhawks to keep their distance from the Longhorns’ second-best mark (197-103).
Texas had a lot of ‘bests’ to its name, entering the matchup as the Big 12’s best rebounders, best field goal percentage defense, best shot blockers and best free throw shooters. To add to it, the pregame music and fireworks left ears ringing and the building smoky. Loving the home court advantage, Texas sprinted out to an 8-0 lead.
The overwhelming scene wouldn’t overwhelm the Jayhawks. Rather, Kansas put together a combination that works in any environment – make shots and don’t turn the ball over. The Jayhawks doubled the Longhorns scoring output in the final 15 minutes (36-18) and did not commit a single turnover in the second half. For the game, Kansas’ three turnovers are the fewest in a game since also giving up three against Iowa State on Jan. 15, 1966.
Alexander led the charge on the scoreboard after making adjustments to dodge UT’s blocking brigade. Kansas knew Texas was tall, now it was a matter of getting around that length. Alexander labored through 18 scoreless minutes before slamming his first of his long line of dunks. By game’s end he finished one rebound short of a double-double with 15 points and nine boards. His work on the glass led KU to out-rebound the Big 12’s best rebounding team, 37-36.
Where Alexander made adjustments on the scoreboard, junior forward Jamari Traylor played so hard his point total barely mattered. He chalked up eight floor burns, constantly giving up his body to keep the ball on KU’s side. When he couldn’t come up with points, he made sure others could.
Kansas’ balanced scoring trend stayed the course. Junior forward Perry Ellis and sophomore guard Brannen Greene showcased their shooting skills, posting 14 points apiece. The duo shot a combined 78 percent (7-for-9) in the opening frame and 11-for-19 on the afternoon. Greene was a sniper from three-point land, connecting on four of his five attempts, which proved to be game-changers on more than one occasion. Sophomore guard Frank Mason III extended his double-digit streak to 16 games with his 12 points, while he led the floor with four assists and no turnovers.
Though the Longhorns landed the No. 2 recruit last year in Myles Turner, it was Alexander, the No. 3 recruit, who stood out. Turner swatted an impressive five blocks, but scored eight points on 4-of-11 shooting. Instead, sophomore guard Isaiah Taylor made the biggest impact for Texas, leading all players with his season-high 23 points. Senior Johnathan Holmes was the only other Longhorn in double-figures with 14 points.
Once the Longhorns sprinted out to the 8-0 start, the Jayhawks got their bearings after Ellis knocked down the first points of the game. Back-to-back threes from sophomore Wayne Selden, Jr. and Greene quickly rerouted UT’s early lead. Greene’s sharpshooting was front and center. He scored five-straight points, including his second three-pointer, and Ellis drilled a mid-range jumper to hand KU its first lead of the game, 17-15.
Meanwhile, Texas stayed scoreless for almost seven minutes. A layup from Demarcus Holland with 13:47 on the clock was the last for Texas until he pulled up for a jumper with 7:13 to play, halting KU’s 9-0 scoring run.
It didn’t halt for long. UT’s shot blockers caused problems for Traylor’s scoring stats, but couldn’t stop his hustle. The junior big man had just recovered from diving into the baseline crowd for a loose ball when the Longhorns let a pass get away from them at midcourt. Arriving just in time, Traylor dove after that one, too, getting it to Mason. The point guard didn’t dare waste the effort. He busted through the lane for a layup-and-one. Kansas went up 26-21, its largest lead of the half. Alexander’s slams helped Kansas withstand two last-second free throws from Taylor, and the visitors took a 32-20 lead to halftime.
Traylor’s only points came in the second half, again after a mountain of hard work. He pulled down the offensive board to keep a possession alive. Finding no one open for the outlet, he spin-moved himself an open shot. Unfortunately for Kansas, it was one of the few makes to start half number two. The Jayhawks went 2-of-10 through the first five minutes, while Texas got big baskets from Holmes and Turner to take the 42-38 advantage.
Again Kansas adjusted. Great ball movement ended in another Alexander dunk and Selden hit his second three of the day to tie the game. Greene further cut off momentum when his trey returned the lead to Kansas, 47-44.
Using their continued perimeter threat as cover, the Jayhawks started picking their way inside. Mason and Kelly Oubre, Jr. drove the lane for layups, and Traylor added to his selfless play. He tossed up a lob for Alexander’s fourth dunk. Not that the perimeter threat went away. Greene struck again, burying the long ball to put Kansas up, 56-50.
Entering the home stretch, the visitors stepped on the gas. Alexander made free throws, Ellis connected on short jumpers and Mason danced athletically through the lane. The combination proved lethal as Kansas pulled away, 62-52, and never let up. Alexander and Mason chalked up the last points of the win, 75-62.
Kansas will continue its road swing at TCU on Wednesday, Jan. 28, at 8 p.m., on ESPNU. The Jayhawks will return to Allen Fieldhouse for two games. On Saturday, Jan. 31, they will host Kansas State at 1 p.m. on either ESPN or ESPN2, and on Feb. 2 Iowa State comes to Lawrence for ESPN Big Monday at 8 p.m.