The Kansas Jayhawks dominated the Texas Longhorns on both ends of the floor, registering a 31 point victory that all but sealed up Kansas' tenth consecutive Big 12 championship. Andrew Wiggins led all scorers with 21 points, while fellow freshman Joel Embiid scored 13, grabbed seven rebounds, and blocked six shots. Jonathan Holmes scored 17 points for Texas in the defeat.
The game started to get out of hand midway through the first half. With a little more than 13 minutes remaining, Javan Felix hit a jump shot for Texas that tied the score at ten all. But at that point Kansas took the game over, clamping down on Texas, essentially shutting down the Texas offense. The Horns managed only eight more points in the half, while the Jayhawks turned defense into transition offense, finishing the period with a 46-18 lead.
From the start, Kansas' defensive intensity was a fair bit higher than what it has been in virtually every other game this year. The Jayhawks can score with any team in the country -- what defines the ceiling for this particular Bill Self squad is how often it will play like this on D. Kansas came out pressuring the ball and denying passes on the perimeter, limiting Texas' ability to get into set offense. This was among Kansas' best defensive performances of the season, while the previous match-up between these two teams was probably the low point for the Jayhawk D.
The Jayhawks effectively contained Isaiah Taylor on ball screens, cutting down on his ability to break down the defense. When Taylor was able to dribble penetrate into the defense, Joel Embiid and company were there waiting. In these circumstances, Taylor typically resorts to short jumpers and his bag of floaters and runners, but these shots just weren't falling. Taylor ended the game going 1-14 from the floor and 3-4 from the free throw line.
Jonathan Holmes was the only Longhorn who had success against an inspired Kansas D. With Kansas denying ball reversal passes, Holmes was able to put the ball on the deck and drive the basket, getting good shots from in close, and earning trips to the free throw line. But it just wasn't going to be enough.
Great Kansas defense fed the Jayhawk attack. 15 of Kansas' 45 field goal attempts came in the first ten seconds of the shot clock in live ball settings. Bill Self's team managed an effective field goal percentage of 83 percent on these attempts. Wiggins and Frank Mason did most of the damage, combining for 15 transition points from the floor on only seven shots. Nine if Wiggins' 21 points came in transition.
Wiggins was spectacular in the half-court as well. In the previous match-up of these two teams, the Longhorn defense frustrated Wiggins by taking away penetration opportunities. The Jayhawk freshman was kept away from the rim in half-court again on Saturday, getting only a single backdoor lob against a Texas zone defense. But Wiggins' made Texas pay for packing the defense with his three ball, going 3-5 from beyond the arc.
College kids really can't do much to defend Wiggins when he is hitting the three. The only guys who can hope to guard him when the shots are falling get paid to play.
A conference championship for Kansas now appears almost certain. But for this Kansas squad more is expected. This is a team that starts three former McDonald's high school All-Americans, and features a fourth player who is a future NBA lottery pick (Joel Embiid wasn't invited to the McDonald's game). The Jayhawks played like a Final Four team Saturday night in Lawrence, translating ability into performance at both ends of the floor. The question moving forward for Kansas is, how often can it play like this? Is a performance like Saturday's an infrequent event, or is Bill Self's team starting to hit its stride?
For the Longhorns, everyone knew coming in that this past week was the most difficult on the schedule. Now the Longhorns need to bounce back after two big losses for a home game against a reinvigorated Baylor, before travelling to Norman for a rematch against the Sooners. It never gets easy against a gruelling Big 12 schedule.